Where the road meets the sky: a well loved man’s life remembered

When Ray Taylor’s daughter Jennifer last talked to him, he had just finished riding his Harley Davidson over San Francisco’s Golden Gate…

When Ray Taylor’s daughter Jennifer last talked to him, he had just finished riding his Harley Davidson over San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

The sun was shining, the salty sea breeze was coming in off the Pacific — and Ray was in his element.

When Ray died only a few days later, everyone could agree that he had died doing what he loved.

“My husband and him are riding together again,” said Barb Van Grinsven, widow of Frank Van Grinsven, Ray’s lifelong best friend.

A row of motorbikes lined the parking lot outside Heritage North Funeral Home last Wednesday, as dozens of friends and family streamed into the increasingly cramped main hall of the building.

Leather, tweed, wool, cotton and silk stood shoulder to shoulder.

Ray’s six-month-old granddaughter Keira punctuated the still air with restless cries.

Ray, 58, the middle child of five, was raised on a farm in Chatham, Ontario.

At 16 he left to join the Canadian Army Signal Corps and served for two and a half years.

While still in his teens, a chance encounter at a roller rink changed Ray’s life.

That night, after rushing back from the rink he woke up his mother and proudly told her that he had just met the woman he was to marry.

His prophecy would inevitably come true, after Debbie accepted his wedding proposal — in a ditch during a walkathon.

 Dukes of Hazzard analogies drifted through the assembled crowd as many remembered Ray’s many automotive shenanigans.

“You look in the dictionary under individual, and there he is,” said Rick, Ray’s youngest brother.

“He was into motorized anything,” said his oldest brother Blaze.

His siblings were hard-pressed to remember a time when Ray drove away without screeching the tires of his Comet Bandit at his parent’s farm.

A favourite trick at his country house was for Ray to speed down the driveway, quickly slam on the brakes and do a 90-degree turn onto the road.

Debbie remembers looking out the window one morning and noticing that a slight miscalculation in Ray’s stunt had taken out the neighbour’s mailbox.

Off the road, Ray was equally incorrigible.

He once lost his job at an Ontario Chrysler factory by sleeping in so late that he missed the afternoon shift.

He was a guard with the Yukon Correctional Services, and the Whitehorse jail was often plagued with Ray’s pranks.

For instance, he was known to smear a telephone receiver with honey, go away and ring that phone’s number.

In the prison’s lunchroom, employees had to reach a high shelf to retrieve their coffee cups. By filling them with water, Ray created impromptu morning showers for unsuspecting employees.

But behind the wild tire-screeching prankster individuality of Ray Taylor was a man of irrepressible gentleness and generosity.

“He had a heart bigger than this couch,” said oldest brother Blaze, pointing to the large three-person couch in the main hall of the funeral home.

“I still owe him about four cartons of smokes,” said a man who knew him from Yukon Harley Davidson.

“He was always giving people money. ‘Loaning,’ he called it, but it never came back,” said Debbie.

When Ray took to the roads, an unturned hood was always a signal to pull over and see if he could offer any help.

Days before his death, Ray was pulling over to help wayward travellers on the roads of the western United States.

Once, in a Whitehorse restaurant, he once came upon a man from Georgia, shivering and nursing his swollen hands.

He had come underdressed for the harsh Yukon winter when his car had broken down — in attempts to fix it he had spilled gasoline over his exposed hands.

Ray quickly took the man to the hospital — covering the bill as the man had no health insurance.

He invited the man into his home, outfitted him with a new set of warm clothes and a parka, and housed him until his friends arrived to pick him up.

“He never forgot a birthday, holiday, anything,” said Ray’s daughter Jennifer.

Once, when Ray was in Inuvik on business, separated from his wife during their anniversary, she received a single rose through the mail

Indeed, special occasions were always unique opportunities for Ray’s practice of obscure gift-giving.

Ray’s sister Joan had never hid her aversion to his hunting trips — so he once sent her a rug fashioned from the skin of a teddy bear — complete with a ear tag affixed to the teddy bear’s head.

In Northern California, Ray was killed after his motorcycle plunged into a deep roadside culvert, where he remained obscured by bushes until discovered by road crews about five days later.

“By remaining hidden, it was like almost like he didn’t want people to know that he was gone,” said Jennifer.

“It’s very much like him not to want to hurt you or make you sad,” she said.

Ray’s legendary generosity and zest for life never wavered even in the face of near-constant pain due to incessant headaches suffered in the last 16 or 17 years of his life.

At the memorial service, photos of Ray were posted all around the gathering hall.

A faded 1970s-era photos showed him sporting a large bushy black beard and holding up Jennifer.

As the decades wore on, his signature facial hair became closer cut, giving him the look of a wizened university professor.

As his beard turned to speckled grey and finally — to white, the look was only enhanced.

Barbers and family alike remember that it was always unexpectedly soft.

At the end of the memorial service, as friends and family gathered to exchange hugs and stories — the stereo of Heritage North Funeral Home opened up with Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild — eliciting nervous giggles among the crowd.

Right after the eulogy, Joan read a poem she wrote immediately after learning of her brother’s death.

Look for me where the road meets the sky

Where the horizon disappears like a shimmering pearl

I’m riding a road that knows no bound

That knows no ending in the world

Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read