One of the pleasures of my job is that I get to know some interesting people.
These people are loyal readers of the Times-Union.
During 15 years as reader advocate and nearly 13 years as editorial page editor, I have had the joy and honor of working with them.
So I was saddened in recent days to learn of the death of Robert A. Taylor and Pat Bloebaum.
These two people couldn’t be more different in their political beliefs, Taylor a proud African-American liberal and Bloebaum a proud white conservative.
Yet they had strong similarities.
Both were passionate about making Jacksonville a better place. They courageously shared their beliefs in letters columns and in our Email Group’s feedback pieces. And I think if they had met, they would have found much common ground.
Bloebaum represented the traditional values of conservatives, often regretting the general progressive trends in politics and culture.
But what readers may not have known was that Bloebaum had a heart of gold.
As the Times-Union reported in 2014, Bloebaum organized a group called “The Bag Ladies” at Lakewood Presbyterian Church that put together bags of toys, toiletries and other needed items for children staying at Hubbard House.
Bloebaum was inspired to do that after her daughter and two grandsons spent a night there in 2003, wrote Times-Union reporter Sandy Strickland.
For the sake of transparency, my wife worked with Bloebaum at William Cook Advertising, so I already knew what a special person she was.
Taylor, meanwhile, was someone I came to know during my 15 years as reader advocate. My role involved dealing with readers who needed help within the newsroom. This took on special meaning with minorities who often felt alienated from the Florida Times-Union and needed encouragement to engage with us.
In his letters, Taylor would eloquently voice what he and many other African-American residents were thinking about the important issues of the day. And he was quite masterful at providing historic context to current controversies.
But while I grew to know Taylor for his strong opinions about social justice and equality, I never found him to be an angry man in any way — he was simply a good man who was admirably thoughtful and spirited.
“You have been closer to me than a friend during the past years,” Taylor wrote me last May.
“Yesterday I finally had my last child graduate at the University of Florida. I am very happy and old, 76 to be exact. My time is getting short. A photo of my son’s graduation. Thanks for all your support.”
Some T-U readers would wonder why Taylor’s letters were published so often. It was simply about supply and demand, along with a desire to provide balance. Too few of our African-American readers write us, and it is important that we seek to represent all of our readers.
Both Bloebaum and Taylor represented other common traits shared by frequent letter writers.
They were open to editing, especially in the civil tone that we prefer.
They made their points clearly.
They generally wrote brief letters, never longer than 350 words.
I will dearly miss both of them.
And I would like to pass along my sincere condolences to their families and friends.
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