Today is the 102nd birthday of my dear friend J. Paul Taylor. My pal and distant cousin arrived on August 24, 1920 in the community of Chamberino. It was a rural area in the Mesilla Valley, less than twenty miles south of Las Cruces and about fifteen miles from the Mexican border. Paul remembers his idyllic childhood in the midst of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Legions of men, women, and children passed through from Oklahoma and Texas on their way to look for work in California. His parents would allow them to camp out on their farm. Concerned for the well-being of the transients, his mother, Margarita, killed chickens and cooked meals for them.
From 1934 through 1938, Paul attended Valley High School. He was active in drama, played the snare drum and edited the school newspaper. Along with teacher Mildred Bogart, Paul and his journalism class once attended a press conference with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in El Paso. As Paul remembered, “We were so nervous. We wanted to make sure we had the poise to present our questions to the nation’s First Lady, so we practiced and practiced all the way to El Paso. The event turned out very well, and I got to shake her hand and pose with her in a class picture.”
Leaving a Legacy
In 2002 Paul and his late wife Mary knew their time was finite. They didn’t know what would become of their work as cultural preservationists. During their sixty years of marriage they had amassed a large art collection. The couple wanted to keep the home and its contents intact rather than selling them to an outside interest. They reasoned that in keeping the house and collections together, the history of Mesilla could be shared with future generations. Paul and Mary made the decision to gift their home and property to the state of New Mexico. The town of Mesilla will forever be entwined with the vision and generosity of J. Paul and Mary Taylor.