In Memory of Dr. Jack Taylor ′44
Publication Date: 10/26/2012
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of former Physics professor Jack Taylor ’44.
Visitation and Funeral Arrangements
Tuesday October 30, 2012, Memphis Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery
Visitation: 1-2:30 p.m.
Funeral: 2:30 p.m.
Please send memorials to Rhodes College or the Memphis Food Bank.
The following article was published in the June 30, 1992, issue of the Today, the Rhodes alumni publication, on the occasion of Physics Professor Jack H. Taylor’s retirement.
Goodbye to “The Old Man”
By Martha H. Shepard ’66
Physics professor Jack Taylor is always “on go”—enthusiastically teaching and supporting his students and colleagues, interested in everything and eager to discuss new ideas, which with him are never in short supply. It’s been that way throughout his distinguished 39-career at Rhodes—four as an undergraduate (class of ’44) and 35 as a professor of physics. In fact, he’s been at the helm so well and so long that like an able ship’s captain, the World War II Navy officer in recent years has come to be called “the old man.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the notion of retirement doesn’t come easily to him or the people who know him. But while he officially retires in May, “the old man” won’t exactly be dropping out of the academic scene: A very lucky student will have Dr. Taylor all to himself next year as adviser for a directed inquiry. That student will most likely go on to earn a Ph.D. (at Dr. Taylor’s graduate alma mater Johns Hopkins if “the old man” has his say-so) and eventually teach or do research at one of the nation’s top universities or laboratories, as so many of Dr. Taylor’s former students have done.
In fact, a short list of Dr. Taylor’s former students reads like a “Who’s Who” in physics: Fred Bertrand ’60, manager of nuclear structure research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Bill Brune ’73, research fellow at Harvard University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; Tom Woods ’81, research scientist at the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics; Harry Swinney ’61, Trull Centennial Professor, University of Texas at Austin; and Doug Post ’67, physicist at Princeton University’s plasma physics laboratory.
And as Dr. Taylor recently remarked, “I was proud of the fact that the entire physics staff sitting on that stage [at Commencement this year] had been students of mine here at Rhodes.” He was, of course, referring to Allen Barnhardt ’59 and 1960 graduates Bob MacQueen, who came to Rhodes in 1989 from the High Altitude Observatory, and Jack Streete, who has taught at the college since 1966.
And he’s just as delighted with the current crop of physics majors: “I was greatly pleased and proud that five students received their degree in physics this year,” he said. “Of the five, one was Ms. Rhodes. Three of the five graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and two with honors. Two will be entering The Johns Hopkins University to pursue the Ph.D. degree in physics. They will be the 11th and 12th students to have gone to Hopkins since I have been here.”
Certainly Dr. Taylor was a major motivating factor behind his students’ success. “If there’s one word that describes Jack’s approach to teaching and actions outside the classroom, it’s ‘enthusiasm,’” said Dr. MacQueen. “When I was a student it was his hands-on approach in the laboratory and general ebullience that made others enthusiastic. When I returned to teach at Rhodes I saw that he had hardly slowed down in 30 years’ time.”
Dr. MacQueen and his contemporaries were students when Dr. Taylor was building the Physics Department. “When I came in 1956 it was just over a decade since World War II had ended and there was a great shortage of Ph.D.s in physics,” recalled Dr. Taylor, who before returning to Rhodes to teach had been vitally involved in the physics of the Sidewinder missile project at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. According to Dr. Taylor, college president and former physics professor Peyton N. Rhodes “became desperate and would telephone Sara and me in Washington about once a month to see if we would like to return to Memphis. Then he began to call about once a week. We finally said yes and came back.”
The first year “was devastating,” he said. “I was the only one in the department. There was no technical support whatsoever—no machinist, no electronic technician, no secretary.” Undaunted, Dr. Taylor set about building the department, hiring professors, outfitting laboratories and establishing instrument and optics shops and research programs.
It wasn’t long before he was taking the classroom to “the source” too. In the summer of 1960, for instance, he took a group of students and a mobile infrared observatory he and his students had built from government surplus property to Florida where they studied high altitude chemicals released from rockets.
Other expeditions followed—to the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, CO, in 1962 to study man-made eclipses in the infrared, and to Alaska in 1963, Florida in 1970 and Kenya in 1973 to study total solar eclipses. “I remember that in 1973 as part of the American Eclipse Expedition, I received a letter from President Daughdrill,” said Taylor. “He had only shortly before that become president of Rhodes. He wrote that letter to encourage us and our efforts and I shall always remember the occasion. We were camped at Loyengalania on the shores of Lake Rudolph, near the Ethiopian border.”
While the Rhodes expedition was studying the eclipse from the ground in Kenya, Dr. Taylor glowed in the knowledge that a so-called white light coronagraph was also studying the eclipse from the air in the Skylab satellite. The white light coronagraph was designed by none other than Bob MacQueen.
Much closer to home, Dr. Taylor’s students also have benefited from his “laboratory of invention” housed in a converted shed behind his home just two blocks from campus. The two-story, 1,800-square-foot structure is a showcase of industrial-quality power tools plus more than 3,000 labeled glass jars containing every metal part known to man—and some known only to Dr. Taylor. He began his workshop, he said, so that his four sons and his students would have a place to build things and develop ideas.
One of his grandest designs is Rhodes Tower, the physics building. Dr. Rhodes directed the physics faculty to design it, and Dr. Taylor headed the project. The teacher/architect is also a widely published author. His latest book, Radiation Exchange, is an introductory-level textbook about electromagnetic radiation.
Dr. Taylor is the recipient of the American Physical Society’s Pegram Award for outstanding teaching and the Dean’s Award for Research and Creativity at Rhodes. But perhaps his greatest tribute was the gathering of some of the country’s top physicists, all former students, for Dr. Taylor’s birthday at the college’s 1987 Homecoming. It was the first departmental reunion at Rhodes where alumni return to honor their mentors, and it is appropriate that that landmark occasion was in honor of “the old man.”