NORTH OGDEN — Nearly a month after the death of her husband, Jennie Taylor is still figuring out what comes next.
The jolt on learning that Brent Taylor, the North Ogden mayor and a major in the Utah Army National Guard, had been killed while deployed to Afghanistan, still hasn't worn off. "Obviously, we're still just in the initial shock of all this," she said.
A couple things are for sure, though. She wants Brent Taylor's legacy to live on — of serving, of finding a mission in life, of helping others. And, to that end, she aims to harness the goodwill and outpouring of support that's come her and her family's way following his death on Nov. 3.
"His life will not have been lost in vain, his blood is not spilled in vain. I will dedicate the rest of my life on this earth to making sure that does not happen," she said.
So far, the outpouring has included more than $550,000 in contributions for her and the seven Taylor kids and formation by her North Ogden neighbors and church friends of a series of committees to aid the family with household duties, meals and more. Beyond that, federal legislation is in the works to name a veterans facility in North Ogden after the late mayor.
For now, though, Jennie Taylor isn't sure how exactly she furthers her husband's legacy since the shock of his death is "still too fresh and too new," she continued. "But I can guarantee you not one charitable word or dollar or service to our family will stop there. We will find and create ways to pay it forward and do our part to carry on this legacy."
Taylor, 39, died while nearing the end of a year-long deployment to Afghanistan after a member of the Afghan special services contingent he was helping train turned on him and attacked him. The shock reverberated across Utah and beyond given Taylor's profile as a leader in the state and his dedication to service. He had already deployed twice before to Iraq and once before to Afghanistan, and though on temporary leave as mayor while in Afghanistan, he was in his second term as leader of North Ogden.
Moreover, he had served on the Utah Transit Authority Board of Trustees before deploying, pushing for reform of the agency, which has had a history of controversy stemming from executive compensation packages and questionable land deals.
"I hope the legacy is in inspiring people to say, 'What's my life mission?' Brent knew very well what his was. It was community service, it was patriotic service, it was family service, it was service to God," Jennie Taylor said. "He knew very well and he tapped into that from a very young age, much younger than most people are capable of."
THE 'MAGIC' OF HIS LEADERSHIP
Following a tragedy like Brent Taylor's death, or the death of anyone, the response, while well-meaning, can be over the top.
"I know a lot of people in the immediate wake when someone dies, you just deify the person — 'He was everything' and 'He was the best at everything' and 'He did everything perfectly'," she said. "You and I know that's not true."
However, she said the "magic" of her husband's leadership was in empowering other people, making them believe in themselves, inspiring them.
It could be personal. "He believed in me as a wife and a mother far more than I believed in my own capacity," she said. The couple married in 2003.
But it extended to all his interactions. She remembers when he returned to North Ogden in August on a short leave from Afghanistan and met with staffers at city hall, some of them at the center of controversy stemming from a legal fight over construction of the city amphitheater at Barker Park.
"He didn't berate anyone. He didn't say, 'What in the heck are you doing, why did you let this happen?' He gave them all a pep talk. He reminded them that he's not the source of the greatness of the city, that city staff is, the city residents are, the department heads are. To me that's his legacy," she said.
That efforts are afoot to rename the new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs center on Washington Boulevard for her husband thrills Jennie Taylor. U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop's proposal calls for naming the facility at 2357 Washington Blvd. the Major Brent Taylor Vet Center Outstation.
"He viewed it as a deep honor to be counted among those willing to both live and die for our country — across generations of time," she said. "It seems fitting that now that he has given his life as a soldier, his name and legacy will live on in a facility designed to honor and care for those who have been willing to do the same."
She also favors a drive, launched by brother-in-law Jared Pack, to name the Barker Park amphitheater for her husband. Brent Taylor was the key force in promoting construction of the amphitheater, aimed at bolstering the cultural offerings in the city, and it was one of his last efforts as mayor before deploying to Afghanistan last January.
The project — which received a $756,000 injection on Tuesday in the city's 2019 budget from the North Ogden City Council for additional work — remains the focus of debate.
But while Jennie Taylor is well aware of the controversy, she noted the many steps, including the public meetings, preceding the city council decision late last year to move ahead with the plans. Whatever the case, dealing with controversy is part of leadership and she understands that, understands not everyone backed all her husband's decisions.
Brent Taylor understood that, too.
"He was openly known to say that democracy is messy and there are going to be disagreements and there are going to be people who feel like they didn't get their way," she said.
He always treated others with dignity and respect, however, backed his decisions with research and, after studying an issue, wasn't afraid to make tough decisions. That, too, is part of his legacy.
"There's a lot of people who disagreed with him on a lot of things, but at the end of the day could walk away saying, 'You know what? He was always respectful'," Jenny Taylor said. "He always heard both sides of the story. He never flipped a coin to make a decision."