Jack Taylor’s office on the second floor of his Toyota dealership is uncluttered and pristine, and his glass-top desk is meticulously organized. Yet his personality is a splendid mess, with a larger-than-life personality and a conversational style that seems to be running off in 20 directions at all times. A typical chat might veer wildly from one subject to the next — first remembering a friend who spent his last days in an Arlington hospice before promoting the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria or launching into a promotional speech about the wonders of everything Toyota. And speaking of cars, he wants to know why everyone doesn’t drive a Toyota.
“He always ribbing me because I drive an old car,” said Patti DeBuck, director of special events for Capital Hospice. “And he keeps asking me when I’m going to buy a Toyota.”
DeBuck may not have purchased a Toyota, but Taylor has certainly been kind to Capital Hospice. For more than 10 years, he has organized a fundraising golf event for the Falls Church-based nonprofit organization. At first the event was a golf tournament at the Belle Haven County Club. But for the past six years, Taylor has hosted the event at his Annapolis, Md., house, which he calls Jack’s Place. Since then, it has evolved into much more of a party — one with a chipping course, a seafood buffet, loads of cocktails, a live band and boat rides.
“We don’t turn anyone away for lack of insurance or an inability to pay,” said Spence Levine, director of communications for Capital Hospice. “And it’s events like the one that Jack hosts every year that allows us to do that.”
In the past decade, Taylor has raised more than $1 million for the organization. The gala at the Mellon Auditorium honoring him brought in another $1 million. And in many ways, Jack Taylor is sort of like Alexandria’s Andrew Mellon — a multitalented money man who is always looking for new and better ways to use philanthropy to help people.
“Maybe I’m trying to buy my way into heaven,” Taylor told his friend, Alexandria attorney Bud Hart, according to a story that Taylor is fond of telling.
“Heaven has different rules for car dealers,” Hart is said to have responded. “Then you're going to have to give a lot more money.”
TAYLOR WAS BORN in George Washington University Hospital to a prominent Virginia family. His father was sheriff of Fairfax County from 1946 to 1962 — and a leader of the Byrd Machine in Northern Virginia. But young John Taylor Jr. — known since childhood as “Jack” — was a precocious child.
“I probably did a few things I hope my son won’t do,” Taylor said. “I was a little bit of a free spirit.”
After receiving a bachelor of arts degree in history from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., in 1969, Taylor was drafted into the Army and deployed to Saigon. During the war in Vietnam, Taylor was a customs inspector who spent his days searching for smuggled heroin. But at night, he tried to use his famous sense of humor to break the tension.
“My experience in Vietnam was like MASH,” Taylor said. “I ran a bar in the barracks.”
When he returned to the United States, Taylor began sending resumes to potential employers. He was particularly interested in large corporations like IBM and Xerox. But they refused to hire him, he said, because they didn’t think he could be a good salesman.
“They were wrong, as it turns out,” Taylor said.
In 1972, his father got him a job selling cars for Bill Page Toyota in Falls Church. From the first moment on the sales floor, Taylor knew that he had found his calling. His social graces and easy way make him a natural at sales, and his gregarious personality soon made him the dealership’s leading salesman. A few years later, he entered into a partnership to run a Toyota dealership on Mount Vernon Avenue. By 1984, he was able to buy his partner out. Thus was born Jack Taylor Toyota, a staple of life in Alexandria for more than 20 years. In 2000, he relocated the dealership to a much larger building on Jefferson Davis Highway.
“I always tell people that I’m not successful because I’m smart,” Taylor said, examining a row of old photos that lines the hallway outside his office. “I just jumped on this wave called Toyota and I’ve been riding it ever since.”
TAYLOR’S GENEROSITY has spread the wealth to a wide range of causes: the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria, Special Olympics, Toys for Tots, Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society, the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau, Northern Virginia Community Foundation, Hopkins House, Alexandria City Public Schools and Arlandria Neighborhood Health Services — just to name a few. But Capital Hospice remains one of the charities that’s closest to his heart.
“It’s as much for the living as for the dying,” Taylor said. “I’ve lost a couple of good friends in hospice, and I have seen the kind of relationships that are formed in these situations.”
Every year, the golf event is one of the biggest fundraisers for Capital Hospice, and Taylor’s hands-on management style drives him to do much of the setup himself. Because it’s held at his house, the nonprofit has no overhead costs to cover. And Taylor’s staff helps to organize, plan and execute the event — an in-kind donation that saves the organization a substantial amount of man-hours.
“Every time I see an older person walking alone I wonder who they have,” Taylor said. “Just because you don’t have insurance doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to die with dignity.”