Five Minutes With … Mary McClure Taylor, BA’52
If Vanderbilt University could be characterized by one building, it would have to be Kirkland Hall. Up the stone stairs worn smooth by a century of foot traffic lies the heart of the university.
If Vanderbilt University could be personified by one individual, it would have to be Mary McClure Taylor, university receptionist. All that is Vanderbilt flows around her station in the center of Kirkland Hall. Taylor is often the first person that visitors to Kirkland, Vanderbilt and the College of Arts and Science meet—and she represents them well. Her demeanor is pleasant. Her compassion is real. Her heart is true. Her story is one with the institution.
Taylor grew up with Vanderbilt. She’s the daughter of an alumnus and faculty member (her father was Christopher Columbus McClure, MD’18, the first chair of the radiology department at Vanderbilt University Medical School), a College of Arts and Science graduate herself and a longtime Vanderbilt employee.
How did your history with Vanderbilt begin?
My dad founded the radiology department at Vanderbilt and I would walk over every day from Peabody Demonstration School (now the University School of Nashville) to catch a ride home. One day I made a wrong turn in the hospital and opened the door to where all the cadavers were kept. I didn’t make that mistake again!
He (her father) was one of 10 children who grew up in Wager, Ala., which is a tiny town close to Mobile. He got on a train by himself and traveled here to go to school and then medical school. He stayed here. Chris, my brother, went here, and of course, my husband (Robert C. Taylor, BA’52, JD’55) went here. My sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, stepsons, everybody. [It is] a real way of life with me.
During that time, you’ve met a few of our chancellors.
I have known all but two of our chancellors. I didn’t know [Landon C.] Garland or [James H.] Kirkland. Chancellor [Oliver C.] Carmichael was a good friend of my dad’s. Micky Carmichael Jr. was one of my brother’s best friends. Harvie Branscomb was chancellor when I was a student here. I worked for Chancellors Heard, Wyatt, Gordon Gee and now, Nick Zeppos. I was very young when I knew Dr. Carmichael. I remember how visible Chancellor Gee was on campus. He remembered everybody’s names and as I watched him interact with students, I found it very rewarding. Chancellor Zeppos teaches a class each semester. The students come by my desk, so excited to be in his class, and even his past students still stop by and see him frequently. Of course, that means I get to see them again as well.
What do you like best about your work?
What makes me love my job more than anything are these students. They are very dear, and tops. They just make my day. There’s just a constant stream. Of course they have to come through to go up to the third floor to change a course. That’s when I see most of them, when they’ve signed up for a course and two days later they’re getting out of it. I have made friends with some of them and have kept up with them through lunch and dinner and things like that, which mean a lot.
Where else have you worked at Vanderbilt?
Alumni Hall and Kirkland are really the only two buildings I’ve ever worked in.
I worked for Ed Shea for a while. He held the same position as Bob McGaw (former alumni secretary and director of public relations). I worked for Jane Sutherland in the registrar’s office, but I think Bob was the first one who asked me to work for him when I got out of school. Mostly I was proofing letters, which I enjoyed doing. It’s so much fun finding a mistake.
I probably started working full time with Skip Higgs. That was in News and Public Affairs in Kirkland. It was proofreading and just any job she needed. That’s been a long time ago. We moved to Alumni during the Kirkland renovation [in the mid to late 1980s].
What other types of work have you done?
I majored in sociology and minored in political science. Looking back on it, I picked those because of the professors. We had some good professors in those two departments.
I worked at the Red Cross—volunteered—drove that big old bloodmobile. It had a guard on it, so it wouldn’t go over 30 miles an hour. I did that a couple of days a week. Those were heavy things to lift, those cases that were filled with blood.
What do you do for enjoyment?
I go to basketball games. I’m a real basketball nut. I had both hips replaced and I can’t handle the steps at the football games. I got seats for men’s basketball that are real easy to get to. I sit behind our team … there’s nobody in front of us. It’s just great. It’s two steps to get down in there. I’ve had those seats a long time.
What’s your favorite time of year on campus?
It’s not winter! It’s spring—I live for spring. We laugh about it when five minutes of more daylight makes such a big difference. Best time of the year.
photo credit: John Russell