He recently retired from his position with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, but the well-known “banjo picker” continues to volunteer his time.
“Retirement from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the 911 of state government, does not mean retirement from [my] calling of service to mankind. That’s the bottom line,” Taylor said.
Just about his entire adult life, Taylor has worked in the public safety end of business — for 20 years with TEMA and 15 years with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office prior to going to work for the state’s EMA.
“Looking back I can visualize how I got to this place in my journey. In 1977, at the encouragement of my friend Ron Moore, I joined the Cleveland Jaycees. Their motto ‘service to mankind is the best work of life,’ turned out to be a life’s calling for me,” Taylor explained.
“I joined the Cleveland Police Department as a reserve officer and shortly after I went on to a full-time career in law enforcement with Dewey Chastain at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office. Robert Lawson kept me when he won the election in 1980 and a year later he would send me to a school on Haz-Mat response. This was my first real knowledge of what TEMA was about,” Taylor said.
In essence, that move by Lawson would steer Taylor’s path to TEMA as he headed into the future.
But a greater passion was still coming.
As he worked with BCSO and then what was known as Bradley County Rescue Squad, Taylor would improve his credentials.
Today, he utilizes his skills and his specially trained canines, along with his tracking abilities in a very active job with Search and Rescue (SAR).
Many of the searches are in neighboring Polk County. Roughing through the snake-filled, treacherous terrain of the mountains in and surrounding the Ocoee River Gorge, Taylor can just about out-perform any seasoned hiking enthusiasts.
Searches can be short or long, done in hot or cold weather, rainy or dry conditions.
It doesn’t matter to Taylor or his companions “Buddy” and “Jake.”
They will trudge through the water or mountainside to success to find those who have strayed from the paths, typically inside the Cherokee National Forest in Polk or Monroe counties.
But reflecting on his beginnings in service, Taylor said he studied hard to gain knowledge and certifications.
“I took a two-week class and became a Haz-Mat Technician. At that time, we had a regional response van that belonged to TEMA and we manned it as volunteer state employees. Sheriff Lawson treated me well and I advanced to lieutenant under his leadership. I also became a member of the Bradley County Rescue Squad in 1981 under Chief Emery Bryant. He was a man of great integrity and of good Christian values. I will always admire him for the character he instilled in me,” Taylor said.
Taylor served as a captain under Bradley County Sheriff Dan Gilley, then was appointed chief deputy.
“The best thing Dan would ever do for me was encourage me to finish my bachelor of science degree at UTC. It was a lot of hard work, but well worth it in times to come. He also encouraged me to become involved in missing person cases which led to my years of training and utilizing dogs in the search effort,” Taylor said.
Taylor ended his full-time career as a deputy in 1994.
He, along with others, were able to affect a number of changes in the sheriff’s office during his time there.
Col. Russ Newman of TEMA offered Taylor the position of area coordinator.
“My first assignment with TEMA was to work with a multitude of federal, state and local agencies to develop a plan and execute it during the 1996 Olympics games,” said Taylor.
Then it was on to Florida for resources in fighting a wildfire which had over half the state involved. He also participated in Hurricane Katrina recovery operations.
“I guess law enforcement was my first love, but search and rescue quickly became second. Through my years at TEMA, we trained hundreds of local responders in SAR techniques and managing large-scale searches. I was involved in many SAR missions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and was privileged to learn much from one of the best SAR planners in the country,” Taylor explained.
Two of Taylor’s canines have since passed and were inducted into the Tennessee Animal Hall of Fame. “Osh” and “Snoop” were two of his beloved animals that were instrumental in a number of SAR operations.
Taylor has received commendations from the governor’s office and other area agencies for his work.
Although he retired a few months ago, Taylor continues to help in the public safety arena.
“What’s next? I have taken a volunteer position as Chief of Emergency Management for Polk County and as SAR coordinator for their Fire and Rescue Department. I will continue to be associated with and help the BCSO as long as the sitting sheriff asks me to be a part. I still train and utilize my current search dogs, Buddy and Jake, when called upon and utilize my knowledge of the Cherokee National Forest to help Polk and Monroe counties in SAR situations,” Taylor said.
He is a member of First Baptist Church where he is active in finding others who may want to join.
That seems to be his real calling, finding the lost … whether it be someone in need of spiritual guidance, a lost child, Alzheimer’s patient or maybe someone who has just gotten off their path while enjoying nature.
What many people don’t know about Taylor is his love for music ... especially bluegrass. The seasoned picker can be seen at area bluegrass festivals enjoying what he and his father Jess Taylor loved. For many years, Richard put his banjo away while he focused on public service. Months before his father’s passing, he broke out his banjo and played for his father Jess, who had taught him many life lessons.
“Service to mankind is the best work of life and thank you Lord for letting me learn that early in life,” Taylor said.