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Tampa deacon dies trying to help friend

TAMPA — Rowe Taylor Jr. was a man people called when they needed help — a place to stay, money for rent, a prayer.

Or help with a flat tire.

Mr. Taylor rushed out Saturday night to help a family friend stranded on Interstate 4, west of the Orient Road underpass. He parked on the outside paved shoulder and tried to cross the eastbound lanes to the car on the grass median.

He didn't make it.

At 8:52 p.m., the Florida Highway Patrol says, Mr. Taylor stepped into the path of a 1996 Ford Explorer driven by 21-year-old Stephanie D. Smith of St. Petersburg. He was struck and killed.

The 69-year-old church deacon died the way he had lived his life, his family says: trying to help. His death came at the end of a tragic period for his family.

Mr. Taylor was born in the tiny town of Damascus, Ga., to a father who also was a church deacon. No matter how old Mr. Taylor got, everybody called him Son.

He moved to Tampa in 1959, married and became a deacon at St. Matthew Missionary Baptist Church. He had six children, 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. But hundreds more called him Pop.

Mr. Taylor was the director for the church's Christian education program. For years, he coached and umpired in the North Seminole Little League.

He was an authoritative man, but a joker. He had a knack for fixing things. Family, friends and people from his church called day and night, whenever something broke.

His wife, Carolyn Taylor, remembers his answer, "I could try to walk you through it, but you won't understand. I'll be there."

Mr. Taylor had a tragic year in 2007. In October, his 36-year-old daughter, Karen Williams, was shot in a random act of violence at Brandon's Fluid Lounge and Nightclub.

In September, he lost his sister. In November, an aunt. And in December, he lost his brother.

"It was hard," his wife remembers, "but he stayed faithful. What I'm drawing strength from is knowing how strong he was, what he believed. Even now, he expects us to be strong."

The Florida Highway Patrol has filed no charges against Smith, the driver, who suffered minor injuries in the crash. A man in a third car, 43-year-old Wynne Viracacha-Buitrago, also suffered minor injuries when his car was sideswiped.

Carolyn Taylor wants Smith to know the family holds nothing against her, that they know the crash was a traumatic experience and that they're praying for her.

"As hard as it seemed today for all of us, through our pain, our tears, our questions, our wondering why, through all of that," Carolyn Taylor said, "I know we are going to be all right."

When the family gathered in a dark cemetery in October, they hung on the words Mr. Taylor prayed over his daughter's grave.

Sunday, someone else would have to lead the prayer, under a tent in his front yard at 3608 McBerry St.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached
or (813) 226-3354.

. fast facts


Family and friends will remember Rowe Taylor, Jr. on Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Matthew Missionary Church, 3716 E Lake Ave., Tampa.

Tampa deacon dies trying to help friend 04/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 3:13pm]
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