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Receptionist who was welcoming face of Vanderbilt dies; memorial service set

by | Aug. 6, 2012, 1:38 PM

Mary McClure Taylor (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Mary McClure Taylor (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Mary McClure Taylor, beloved Vanderbilt University receptionist who left a lasting impression of warmth, grace and compassion on generations of students and others who visited Kirkland Hall, died Aug. 5 after a short illness. She was 81.

“Mary symbolized the living heart of Vanderbilt,” said Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. “She welcomed thousands of visitors to the university with utter charm and grace. She was an easer and a facilitator with students, faculty and staff all tangent to her magnetic circle. Everyone loved Mary because she herself was so loving.”

Taylor was born March 5, 1931, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her family moved to Nashville when she was very young. Her father, Dr. Christopher C. McClure Sr., was founder and chair of the Department of Radiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Taylor’s love for Vanderbilt began at a young age. She attended Peabody Demonstration School and would cross 21st Avenue to go to his office after school.

After high school Taylor enrolled in Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science, where she majored in sociology and minored in political science. She was a member of Alpha Omicron Pi. In a 2002 Vanderbilt Register article, Taylor said that she never thought of going anywhere else. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1952.

Taylor’s strong devotion to Vanderbilt led to her work on campus in areas that included alumni and development, news and public affairs, and university publications, where she served as an assistant editor for eight years.

In 1986, then-Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt named Taylor, who then had worked at Vanderbilt for 31 years, to the newly created position of university receptionist.

Taylor at Vanderbilt's Founder's Day celebration in March 2006. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

Taylor at Vanderbilt's Founder's Day celebration in March 2006. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

“A principal design objective for the renovation of Kirkland Hall was to restore the original lobby space to an open, inviting and informative setting for all who came to visit the university,” said Wyatt, chancellor emeritus. “Central to that vision would be a special person to receive and welcome those who came; a graduate thoroughly knowledgeable about Vanderbilt present and past; a person who would cause each visitor to recall Vanderbilt as a special place in personal terms. Mary McClure Taylor made the vision become a reality in every way imagined, and in so many more.”

A 1986 Vanderbilt Register article to announce her new role noted that “… she may well be the first person visitors to Vanderbilt speak to, and she knows she has been entrusted to make sure ‘the first impression is the lasting impression.’”

Taylor’s many Vanderbilt connections included her father and brother, Dr. Christopher C. McClure Jr., both of whom graduated from the School of Medicine. In addition, her late husband, Robert Campbell Taylor, earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Vanderbilt. They were married in 1995, shortly before his death.

In September 2006, then-Chancellor Gordon Gee announced that the Kirkland lobby would be dedicated to Taylor. At the time, Taylor reminisced that she had seen numerous prominent people come through Kirkland, including Condoleezza Rice, Tom Brokaw, Dan Quayle and Larry King. During one of Brokaw’s visits, Taylor remembered that she “… saw Tom Brokaw passing by, and I ran down the steps and flagged him down to ask him to sign our guest book.”

In a 2011 article in the Arts and Science magazine, Taylor said that she had the unusual distinction of knowing six out of Vanderbilt’s eight chancellors. Oliver Carmichael was a friend of her father’s. Harvie Branscomb was chancellor while she was a student. Taylor worked for chancellors Alexander Heard, Wyatt, Gee and Zeppos.

Taylor was among the longest-serving Vanderbilt employees with 57 years of service, but she actually worked in only two buildings on campus – Alumni and Kirkland halls. Her last day in Kirkland was July 2.

Among Taylor’s favorite pastimes was attending Vanderbilt men’s basketball games. She had longtime seats directly behind the Commodores that were easy to access after two hip replacements. She also was a lover of nature and member of two garden clubs. In addition, she belonged to the Centennial Club and enjoyed spending time with her very large number of friends.

Taylor was preceded in death by her husband, her brother, her father and her mother, Nelle Maria Dunn McClure. Also predeceasing Taylor was niece Marguerite Wallace McClure Averett. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Marguerite Wallace McClure; niece Christopher “Chrissie” Wallace McClure; and nephew Guy Wallace McClure, all of Nashville, Tenn.; and nephew Dr. Christopher C. McClure III, of Clarksville, Tenn. She also has four stepsons: Robert C. Taylor Jr., of Chattanooga; and Vernon S. Taylor, Harrison H. Taylor and Douglas R. Taylor, all of Nashville.

Visitation will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8, at The Cheek House at First Presbyterian Church, 4815 Franklin Road, Nashville, with a memorial service to follow at 1 p.m. in the Stanford Chapel. A private interment will follow at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests with gratitude that memorial contributions be directed to endowed need-based scholarships for undergraduate students at Vanderbilt University.

Media Inquiries:
Ann Marie Deer Owens, (615) 322-NEWS

  • Graeme Dennis

    A very very special person to all who had the privilege of knowing her.

  • Betsey Usher

    What a beautiful person, inside and out. Mary will be greatly missed!

  • Martha Dale

    Mary Taylor was a remarkable person. She acknowledge you not only at Vanderbilt, but at a car dealership, restaurant, etc after hours. There are many who could follow this example. The Vanderbilt community will miss her.

  • fletchtl

    She will be missed. A brilliant and wonderful woman.

  • Deborah Corbin

    What a heartbreaking loss for the university and all who knew or met Mary. She was the face of Vanderbilt; an extraordinary lady. She will be missed greatly.

  • Deborah Corbin

    A great loss for the university and so many whose lives she touched. An extraordinary lady who will be extraordinarily missed.

  • Antoinette Hicks

    We all loved Ms.Mary’s Spirit.She new Vanderbilts Mission and lived it.I admire her so very much.

  • Monica Green

    Such an amazing spirit…I remember her from my days at Vandy.

  • She will definitely be missed! Always had a smile and also eager to help all who entered the front doors of Kirkland. I actually ran into her one day randomly in Nashville and she was the same way in pulic as she was at work.

  • Bill Mott

    Mary was a wonderful, gracious, thoughtful, kind lady. To say she will be missed is an understatement.

  • Randolph Blake

    A very, very special person who represented VU with grace and charm. She will be missed.

  • Jackie

    She was the epitome of grace and sophistication. I will always remember how kind she was to me, always welcoming students with a smile. She was a remarkable role model to all “Vandy girls” as the kind of lady we would all like to become.

  • Megan

    This truly saddens my heart! She will be missed.

  • Susan Hilderbrand

    Oh, Mary, I will miss you so much! Rest in peace sweet, dear one.

  • John McCarthy

    Such charm. Such grace. Such a welcoming presence. Mary McClure Taylor was one of the most memorable members of the Vanderbilt community. Her spirit, her friendliness, her warmth and smiling essence have worked their way into the physical space that she husbanded so perfectly for so long. She is not gone. Those whom she greeted again and again will sense her presence every time they set foot in Kirkland Hall. Now, that’s a legacy!

  • Elizabeth Jane Walker

    I dearly loved Mary McClure, with whom I worked in the Publications Office under Skip Higgs in the early to mid 1980s. Currey Courtney, Marilyn Mihal, Patti Bolton, Mary…we had a great crew. Mary was a true lady. There aren’t very many of those around these days. The world will be a dimmer place without Mary and her 1000-watt smile.

  • Jackie McMath

    I was so sad when I hears the news about Ms Mary, really did not want to believe it.Every time I seen her she was smiling and was always dressed so nice. So glad I got to know her and I will think of her often. My prayers go out to her family. See you later Ms Mary..

  • I always looked forward to seeing you beautiful smile whenever I would enter Kirkland Hall. You surely will be missed.

  • Sherrie Lane

    This is truly a very sad day for all of us at Vanderbilt and Peabody. Mary was wonderful! I will truly miss her and had been wondering when I have been at Kirkland Hall a couple of times this summer, where she was. She could definitely make your day bright or much brighter just by seeing her and that beautiful smile she had. She was a wonderful lady and will be very much missed by all!

  • Lolita White

    She was such a charming person. She always had a smile and a kind word for anyone who came into her presence. She will be missed!!

  • Mike Myers

    We had the good fortune to meet her when we brought our son to visit the campus. She was another reason that we felt comfortable with him so far away – we knew there were people like Ms. Taylor at VU

  • Mandla C. Mbatha

    Mary Taylor is a very good friend of mine, I will miss her a lot!!

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