Local woman helped many celebrities on their way up

First Posted: 4/2/2009

Tom Joyce
Staff Reporter

Years before he became vice president, Mount Airy native Linda Taylor knew Joe Biden was going places not because Taylor could foretell the future, but because she worked at an airport Biden used.
Biden was a frequent flyer at the Philadelphia airport where Taylor was supervisor of gates, a job that also put the local woman in touch with many other celebrities on their way in and out of the City of Brotherly Love.
During an airline career spanning nearly 20 years, Taylor got to know a long list of distinguished individuals, such as Dr. J. (alias Julius Irving, the former National Basketball Association star); singer Patti LaBelle; Dawn Staley, former basketball standout and coach of the Temple University womens team; and Franco Harris, star running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their glory years of the 1970s and 1980s.
On the field Harris was known for some speedy jaunts into the end zone, but Taylor remembers that he was always late to the airport.
Also as part of her job as gates supervisor in Philadelphia, which involved helping outbound passengers access their planes in a busy setting, the Mount Airy woman came into contact with Barbara Bush, Magic Johnson and rapper Snoop Dogg. Sometimes close relatives of the famous proved memorable in their own right, including the mother of the NBAs Allen Iverson.
We had a few encounters with her, Taylor recalled of the airport staffs dealings with the superstars mom. She was not too pleasant.
Other people from the realm of politics whom she encountered, besides Joe Biden, included Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Ed Rendell, the governor of that state. He was mayor (of Philadelphia) when I first went up there, Taylor said of Rendell.
She explained that helping supervise operations at a big-city airport can be pressure-packed, considering all the situations that can arise in trying to help folks make connections as orderly as possible. It was very hectic, Taylor said. But Im a people person, so it was very rewarding.
However, Biden, then a senator, seems to have made the largest impression on the local woman. The longtime lawmaker from Delaware often used the Philly airport because it was the closest major facility to his home state. Biden gained a reputation for regularly commuting back and forth between Washington and his home in Delaware.
I met him several times, Taylor said, explaining that she sometimes had personal contact with VIPs because one of her job requirements was making sure everything was in place for passengers to begin an enjoyable journey. Thats how I met Patti LaBelle. We lost her bag.
As for Biden, Taylor said, He was a frequent customer. I put him in first-class whenever I could.
While there was something special about Biden, Taylor admitted she would not have predicted that he one day would be a heartbeat away from the presidency. He has an aura about him, she said. But at the time, he was a senator. You never thought he would be vice president.
He was just a very nice person, Taylor added of Biden.
Taylor said she really got to know some of her passengers quite well, including Patti LaBelle, a relationship that developed despite the airlines having lost LaBelles bag. They knew who would help them and who wouldnt, explained Taylor, whose quiet and caring demeanor defused many a situation in the tense airport.
With Philadelphia being such a major transportation link, airline employees never knew who they would encounter, be they jazz musicians in for a festival or athletes of every sport.
And then there was Snoop Dogg. He had an entourage when he got to the airport, Taylor recalled of the Grammy Award-nominated rapper, record producer and actor. Everybody knew he was there, and this was after 9-11. But he was actually a very nice person.
Good Start In Life
Linda Taylor credits her upbringing in Mount Airy for preparing her for the challenges of work and life. Since she lived on Wards Gap Road and attended a school within walking distance, a tight-knit neighborhood was in place to nurture her during the early years.
I went from first to 12th grade, so the whole community around there was part of my family life. I never had to ride a school bus, said the daughter of Clifton Click Pilson and Mary Elizabeth Pilson.
Her father worked for United Technologies and a local tobacco market and her mother was employed for 35 years at Northern Hospital of Surry County, where she was housekeeping supervisor, along with being active in numerous community efforts. Taylor has one sibling, a younger brother who now lives in Atlanta.
Our teachers at the school were just wonderful, she said of the staff at J.J. Jones, especially praising L.H. and Eleanor Jones.
While at J.J. Jones, Taylor played in the school band of the maroon-and-gold Indians and also was a majorette in addition to being involved in Girl Scouts. As a senior scout in 1962, she attended a national Girl Scout Roundup in Vermont.
We took the train from Greensboro, said Taylor, who remembers that the trip included a visit to the United Nations and Washington, D.C.
It is perhaps a testament to Mount Airy that Linda Taylor grew up during a turbulent, racially charged era without actually knowing it was so turbulent and racially charged. I never felt like I was segregated, she said, mentioning that many white friends lived nearby as well as black.
While she did attend an all-black school, about the only other time race seemed to make an obvious difference was at a movie theater, where those of color were required to sit in the balcony. We had to walk up those steps, Taylor said. But, To me the best seats were always in the balcony.
Another reason she didnt encounter such problems during childhood was perhaps because of Mount Airys proximity to Winston-Salem. If we needed anything, we went to Winston-Salem. Their black community was very strong, Taylor said, which included African-American-owned retail stores, restaurants, theaters and other establishments.
After graduating from J.J. Jones High School in 1962, the young woman attended college, first at what is now N.C. Central University in Durham. She was there for one year before getting married and later giving birth to her daughter in 1963.
Taylor later attended Elkin Business College and studied data processing. Queenie Moore, who was on the faculty at J.J. Jones, also was teaching at the Elkin institution. I rode with her and I got a certificate, Taylor said.
In the coming years, she worked for Southern Bell in information operations; as an accounts specialist at R.J. Reynolds in the companys food division, which was just starting in 1966; and at Schlitz Brewery in Winston-Salem. During these years, Taylor lived back and forth between Winston-Salem and Mount Airy.
But later after remarrying in 1973 to a member of the military, Taylor would find herself leaving North Carolina for stopovers that included Panama, Fort Bragg and Colorado. While in Denver, she furthered her education, earning an associates degree in fashion merchandising.
By early 1979, she was in Fort Meade, Md. I moved so much, Taylor said. But she would remain in Maryland for a number of years, holding several jobs including serving as a management consultant for the Drug Emporium pharmacy chain.
In 1986, Taylor was divorced, a single mother of four children and unemployed. A friend who was working at what was then Piedmont Airlines told her that the company was hiring and she got a job there in May 1986. Taylor held down a part-time position in Piedmonts air freight division at night while also working in property management during the day.
Her first airline job was to load carts with various items people wanted flown out, including personal baggage and freight shipments, as well as unload planes.
In 1991, the company known then as USAir bought Piedmont Airlines, putting all its employees under the USAir umbrella and leading to workers being transferred to different locations as part of the takeover. Taylor had a choice of going either to Pittsburgh, Boston or Philadelphia, and selected the latter.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, she was assigned to the freight office. But that involved outside work in extremely cold conditions and Taylor asked to be transferred inside, where she was assigned to the baggage-claim section.
Eventually, she advanced to supervisor of the gates, which involved managing the flow of outbound passengers through four or five gates at a time and ensuring each had the proper staff percentages.
Taylor said she enjoyed her time in the airline industry, while acknowledging that a lot of things were altered by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that put extra demands on employees related to tightened security. That was a very strange day, she said of 9-11.
Much has changed overall in the industry over the years which has affected how passengers view commercial air travel.
In Taylors view, a lot of airlines had spoiled their customers, who were used to receiving all kinds of extras that now are being charged for, which has created some hard feelings.
Taylor also said that Mother Nature sometimes handicaps airline employees, who end up receiving criticism for conditions out of their control. You cant predict the weather, she said. They try to get planes in through the snowstorms and sometimes they get backed up, and theres a lot of things that can happen.
Given the problems airline staffs have faced in recent years with pay cuts and numerous other concessions, she believes they generally do a good job and enjoy helping travelers as much as possible.

After The Airline
When 2004 rolled around, Linda Taylor, then hitting her 60s, decided to retire from her job at the Philadelphia airport and returned to Maryland, where she began work in the retail fashion field using the degree she had obtained in Denver.
At the same time, she was keeping an eye on her parents back in Mount Airy, particularly her mother, who at one point required brain surgery.
In 2004, while her parents were still relatively healthy, she took them on a trip to Europe, including a visit to Paris, London and other locations. As a person who worked so long in the travel industry, Taylor has traveled extensively herself, including touring such countries as Greece, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.
As her mothers health deteriorated, Taylor opted to return to her hometown of Mount Airy in 2007 to be nearer her parents. I actually gave up my job and my home and moved back here, she said. For a time, she was employed by Shelton Vineyards.
Taylors mother passed away last September and she now looks after her elderly father.
The former airline employees four children are now 45, 43, 39 and 35 years old. Her oldest son, Warren Smith, was on the football team at Wake Forest University in the late 1980s, playing safety for the Deacons, then coached by Al Groh. Smith got a tryout as a free agent in the Washington Redskins training camp and survived until late-preseason cuts.
In addition to her family and other pursuits, Taylor is a longtime active member of the American Business Womens Association and a key organizer of J.J. Jones School alumni reunions. Ive gotten involved since Ive been back, she said of the latter.
Also in her spare time, the ex-airline worker is an avid reader, especially of mystery and thriller novels by such authors as John Grisham and James Patterson.
I have a large collection of books, Taylor said. I actually donated a lot of them to the local library.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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