Dr. Margaret Taylor’s list of accomplishments is extensive. Her reasoning behind each of them is simple: God.
Raised in a family of ministers, Taylor took a special interest in the Presbyterian Church, a place dominated by male leadership until the late ‘60s. She spent the last 90 years working for the church, most notably, launching a country-wide campaign to gather money for Ewart College to build a new training school for female missionaries.
She recently learned her work didn’t go unnoticed. Taylor was one of six women across Canada presented with the Presbyterian Woman of Faith Award this year.
“I was surprised because I hadn’t been in the public eye for decades,” Taylor said. “I was surprised that they had remembered because the young students at Knox College, they don’t know about me.
Ewart College merged with Knox Theological College in 1991 in Toronto. Taylor was the first woman to chair a Presbyterian church board in Canada, and led the Ewart College campaign, one of the most successful campaigns in the church’s history. The campaign involved Taylor travelling across Canada in 1959 to raise the $600,000 required to build and furnish the building.
She spent three weeks travelling mostly by train, visiting churches to speak to them about her campaign. When she returned home she kept right at it, sending hand-written letters to all the contacts she’d met along the way. It was funded debt-free within three years largely because of her efforts.
“In three years that was pretty good,” Taylor said. “In that time women were not given responsibility like that.”
Her son, Ken, notes the church wasn’t very optimistic of the fundraising efforts due to her gender.
“The church hierarchy had very little enthusiasm for the campaign,” Ken said. The college was a college for training women and that’s why perhaps it wasn’t of much interest to the church hierarchy.”
Taylor admits she certainly didn’t think she had it in her to go across Canada to raise money for a building. She took comfort in her faith, as she’s done many times in her life.
Taylor and her husband moved to Elmira when she was in her 60’s, to be closer to their daughter, Marylu. Planning to stay for just 10 years, they ended up making Elmira home for 29 years of their retirement, attending Gale Presbyterian Church.
“I needed to do something so I volunteered to be a librarian and they didn’t have much of a library but I got one started,” Taylor said. “I used some of my books for awhile and I did that for 10 years.”
She said they also chose Elmira because it’s close to their cottage in Kincardine and they enjoyed the low-key aspect of the area.
“We used to be very involved in the church in Belleville,” Taylor said. “We had been pillars in Belleville because there had been nothing when we went there and there was a church when we left, but we became buttresses in Elmira. We weren’t one of the key couples but we were very much supporting the church.”
Taylor was on numerous councils and boards, including chair of the college’s building campaign, taking a train to Toronto at 4 a.m. and returning home at midnight in order to finish all her meetings in a day.
She got her BA from the University of Toronto in 1945 and an honorary Doctorate of Divinity in 1983 from the Presbyterian College affiliated with McGill University.
“I didn’t make much money in my life because I wasn’t hired for anything and in today’s society you’re not from much if you haven’t earned some money,” Taylor said.
Taylor is a mother of three, who she adds, were all high school valedictorians. She also played a vital role in welcoming new immigrants, as their “mother.” She still keeps in contact with many of them, including a teenager she met on a train trip to Chicago to see her dying stepmother.
“My children have always been a joy to me.”
She also chaired the taskforce on the liberty of conscience as it pertains to the ordination of women and served for two years on the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women in Ottawa. She has often been the first woman or the only woman on boards she’s been a part of, unintentionally leading a women’s movement within the church.
Her work has been recognized before, having the Knox Presbyterian Church’s women’s auxiliary group named after her, an honour usually bestowed on those who have died. Her love of writing is something she’s kept up in her retirement, keeping Canada Post busy with many letters to friends she’s made through her travels.
“I’m so thankful for so many things.”
Taylor has lived at the Parkwood Retirement Residence in Waterloo for the past five years. She spends her time visiting with her children and grandchildren and corresponding with friends.
“My father used to say if the church asks you to do something you don’t say no, you say yes because you know God will provide you help.”