Terry Taylor started working on the farm his family sharecropped about the time he started school. His father, also a builder and longshoreman, especially enjoyed serving as a church deacon.
“He read well but every Saturday night he had me read the Sunday School lesson to him for the next day,” Taylor says. “I appreciate that foundation.”
It was a spiritual foundation that would be sorely challenged in years to come.
“I was a bit of a clown at school,” Taylor admits. “I didn’t realize it was about learning. I still get accused of thinking everything’s funny but I try to find the good in life, the best, the lighter side. Mama used to say, ‘Boy, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.’”
Working the fields seasonally, Taylor cut grass, had a paper route, bagged groceries and collected trash. In high school, he drove the hearse or family cars for Poitier Funeral Home, then entered the mortuary science program at Miami Dade Community College.
Because of his background, Taylor was assigned as a graves specialist when he enlisted in the Army. A 1978 deployment changed his life.
Taylor says that sometimes a life situation shows a person what he or she should not be doing. Recovering bodies from the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, in which more than 900 followers of cult leader Jim Jones died — a third of them children — had a dramatic effect.
“I was one of the only soldiers with mortuary experience, so I knew what to expect,” Taylor remembers, “but it was too much. I wanted nothing else to do with that kind of work.”
The experience haunted him. Taylor had distanced himself from his spiritual roots but still felt a connection. “We may fall off the cliff,” he says, “but we’re still holding onto the rope.”
Taylor was stationed in North Carolina and Korea. He married another soldier during his 10 years in the military but when the Army sent his wife to California — and him to Texas — “It was the beginning of the end.” Eventually both he and his ex-wife moved to Florida, along with their children.
“It was a tough time,” Taylor says.
Drugs led to prison but upon release, he made a decision. “I have no problem with people who go to rehab but I just fought. Fought for my life.”
From Fort Lauderdale, Taylor called his childhood pastor in Pompano who agreed to meet Taylor at the church — a three-hour walk. When he finally arrived, not only was the pastor gone, a groundskeeper told him to leave. Instead of being discouraged, however, this motivated him more.
Taylor was eventually licensed and ordained by that same church, working as an unpaid youth pastor. A local business hired him, so pleased with his work that they paid for him to get a commercial driver’s license. And when he showed promise as a salesman, his career path took a new direction.
Over the next several years, Taylor branched out into statewide promotion for gospel and comedy shows, R&B, and other events. “I was ticket pastor, not ticket master,” he says with a laugh. Purchasing two buses, he contracted with Boys & Girls Clubs. He started a church when an outreach to the homeless grew into a congregation.
With a new power washer business, ministry, properties, expanding bus fleet and promotional work, Taylor was always busy … and successful. Then the recession hit.
Taylor had just settled in Port St. Lucie. Declining malls affected his power washing business. Donations to Boys & Girls Clubs slowed, cutting back on their transportation needs. “It happened so fast. I thought, ‘Wow! What am I gonna do now?’”
Taylor opened Flavors, a restaurant and lounge. Critics questioned his Christian witness, causing him to question himself. “Then one night a man walked into the bar and ordered a beer. When I set him up, he just sat there, shaking his head. I asked if I could give him a hug and he burst into tears. He said, ‘I was on my way home to kill myself.’”
Taylor never struggled to reconcile his choice of business after that. “I stopped caring what people thought. I was ministering there. I’d venture to say I helped as many in that bar as I had at church.”
When Flavors closed after nine successful years, a friend suggested car sales. Taylor interviewed with Bev Smith Toyota in Fort Pierce and has been with them six years. His favorite part? “People. That’s it. I don’t judge anybody. I fought for my own life, so I don’t look down on anyone for theirs.”
Taylor still looks for opportunities to help others in addition to his day job. His advice for young men in particular is this: “Actions have consequences. If people would just think things through, it would change the course of their lives in many ways.”
“Pastor T” Taylor has made — and lost — millions. “I’ve cried at my highest and laughed at my lowest. It’s what you find inside yourself.”
The foundation Taylor found inside made all the difference.
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Car salesman; promoter for the nonprofit organization Get on Board Ministries Inc.
Family: Four sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren
Education: Northeast High School in Oakland Park; School of Funeral Sciences at Miami Dade Community College
Hobby: “I like to fish, look for opportunities to serve. There’s a thin line for me with work, though. I come in on my days off, during vacation.”
Who inspires me: “Biblical characters. To me, they’re real.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “Most things, honestly. I’m outgoing, but I don’t give out much because I try to bring out things from them.”
Jan. 12, 2023