Memorial Service Held for Interim President William J. "Bill" TaggartDate Released: June 19, 2017
By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Just three weeks ago, on May 21, Morehouse College Board Chairman Willie Woods ’85 sat joyously onstage next to Interim President William J. “Bill” Taggart at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel during the College’s 133rd Commencement ceremony.
But in that same hallowed space Friday, Chairman Woods somberly remembered his friend, as the Morehouse College President’s Chair sat empty with a black sash draped across it. Interim President Taggart passed away on Thursday, June 8, 2017 at his Atlanta home. He was 55.
“He was my colleague; he was my friend; he was my brother, and I will miss him dearly,” Woods said.
Nearly 1,000 people came to King Chapel at 11:00 a.m. on June 16 for a memorial service for Interim President Taggart, an Atlanta native who had brought a spirit of optimism, direction, and strong collaboration within and outside of the Morehouse community during his brief, two-month period as interim president.
It’s only the second time in the College’s 150-year history that a sitting Morehouse president has passed while in office. The College’s first president, the Rev. Dr. Joseph T. Robert, died in office in 1884.
Personable and extremely well-liked by alumni, faculty, staff, students and administrators, and well-known as a business leader within Atlanta, Interim President Taggart became the College’s interim president after serving as Executive-in-Residence and Chief Operating Officer since 2015.
“Bill brought us together and gave us hope,” said Morehouse Chairman Emeritus Robert C. Davidson Jr. ’67. “He reminded us of who we are and who we still would be.”
Interim President Taggart, a graduate of Howard University and the Harvard Business School, excelled in a career that led him to lead the historic Atlanta Life Financial Group as president and chief executive officer, serve as the chief operating officer of the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid program, and held many executive and leadership positions with Wachovia, IBM, Veritas One, and other businesses.
Many people Interim President Taggart worked with on his professional and personal journeys were in attendance at King Chapel Friday to say their final goodbyes during the emotional service. His family sat quietly as representatives from his alma maters, his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc., and the organizations that he served, such as Atlanta Life, The Woodruff Arts Foundation, Westside Future Fund, and 100 Black Men of America, Inc., remembered their friend.
Their stories were personal—from the guys who grew up with Interim President Taggart in Atlanta’s westside neighborhood or attended Howard University and called the hip-hop devotee and Atlanta sports fan “Wild Bill” or “Dollar Bill”—or they were based on his professional achievements across the country.
They all said Interim President Taggart kept a well-rounded, positive and balanced outlook on life, while remaining humble and gracious throughout all of his years.
“Quite simply, Bill inspired me,” said Stan Rosenzweig, Interim President Taggart’s Harvard classmate and close friend. “By virtue of his strength of character, and literally how he lived his life, Bill always reminded me of what was truly important and what it truly took to live a life well-lived.”
Interim President Taggart’s partner, Wonya Lucas, recalled a conversation that Taggart’s 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, had just had with her the night before.
“You said, ‘He would not want us to be sad,’” Lucas recalled. “He would want us to be happy. And we know that he would want his friends and family to maintain closeness and to keep enjoying life. ... More importantly, he would want us to honor his memory by building a stronger Morehouse, so this institution can continue to produce the caliber of men that can transform the world for the next 150 years.”
Family members were brought to tears as an oil portrait of Interim President Taggart was unveiled, and a group of Morehouse and Clark Atlanta University staff administrators pledged to serve as lifelong mentors for Elizabeth.
But former Atlanta Mayor and Ambassador Andrew Young, a member of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees, said Interim President Taggart would want everyone to leave the Chapel with a bounce in their step, similar to that of the man students called “President Kicks” because of the cool sneakers Taggart often wore with his suits.
“He danced through life; he smiled through life,” Young said. “That’s the way you make it.
“You must carry on that joy, that rhythm, that vitality, that smile,” he added. “That overflowing abundant life that Bill Taggart got from his mother, his father, and the women who loved him—and that he shared with all of those around him. William James Taggart has been and will continue to be a powerful force in our lives. And we thank God for it.”
Last Modified: June 20, 2017, 11:06 AM, by: Synera Shelton