Leslie McGrath Taylor ’79

Leslie McGrath Taylor ’79 died on August 6, 2020, in Essex, Connecticut.

(The following was provided by the zip06.com on August 12, 2020)

Leslie McGrath Taylor ’79

Born in Bridgeport on June 15, 1957, Leslie McGrath Taylor passed away from cancer on August 6 at age 63. For several reasons this was not supposed to happen. For one, the best at Yale reassured her that they had “this”, and that she would be extremely uncomfortable for a number of months but, “to please not worry”. While they were indeed wonderful doctors that did their best, they were wrong.

On the other hand, I was the one that had thoroughly abused myself over the years. An off and on smoker, a carpenter in the business of restoring antique wooden boats, I had exposed myself to all manner of methy-ethyl death over the years. So the plan was that I’d go first and she’d live on comfortably to write for another twenty years. I was wrong as well.

Make no mistake; she did do her level best to keep me alive, especially by way of being a fabulous cook. Always experimenting, almost always succeeding, I was fed meals nearly every night that anyone would have been happy to pay serious money for. Her only problem was her fear of not making enough. She’d always say, “Don’t worry, there’s more”, and I’d always joke that, given the chance, I’d have that carved into her headstone. I am now thinking very seriously of doing just that.

But she was also an excellent baker. In fact that’s how we met. Fresh out of a divorce she’d moved to Noank and got a job at the little bakery next to the Universal. Not much later on she hired my son as a part-time helper, just as he was starting at UConn. At the time I was running my boat company but was also still teaching part-time as an adjunct in the UConn philosophy department. My son Ben got it in his head to mention me to Leslie. “You should meet my dad”, he suggested. “He’s a carpenter and a philosopher, kinda like Jesus.” This got her attention. Four months later we were married on a large old boat adrift in the lee of Ram Island. That was nearly twenty-five years ago.

But most important, most wonderful, is that she was a poet. Just saying this however was always fraught with danger. I’d argue that most people, forgivably, really don’t understand what that means. It took me a good while to appreciate, I freely admit. But I invite you to Google “Leslie McGrath” and you will be confronted with a full screen of just her: her career as a poetry professor at CCSU, her books, her interviews, her Wikipedia page, her national awards. She was a genuine poet able to play the language as a fine and insistent instrument, inviting you to think in ways that were often unfamiliar and eye-opening but then also shaming you, with great empathy, to discover sometimes very uncomfortable bits about being human that nevertheless leave you happy to now appreciate.

Early in her writing career the Noank postmaster let her pin one of her poems on the wall next to the service window. Unaware, I walked in one day, saw the poem hanging there and told Craig how cool it was to see one of my wife’s poems ‘published’. He looked at me slack-jawed and exclaimed, “That’s your wife!? You lucky bastard!”

More than anyone in the world I have appreciated that stroke of luck and will be forever humble and grateful that this woman loved me. She really did.

I hate it when the artists among us die. These extraordinary people are our voices, our apologists, our vanguards. They courageously do their best to explore the world at our behest and to report back when they’ve discovered something of great and real value. The only thing we have to do is shut up, sit down, and for just a moment, listen and see.

Leslie leaves behind so many people that loved her. Her daughters Elizabeth Frankel and Carly Huebner, step-daughters and -sons Ben Taylor, Jen Taylor, Courtney and Shawn Poole, with grandchildren Grayson and Rory Taylor and Connor Poole. Then there are numerous other family members who include her mother Gail Scholan and step-sister Kathy McPadden. Then there are the hundreds of friends, students, and fellow writers who will treasure her work and memories as she treasured theirs. It is comforting to think that there is a good chance she will survive but still speak for all of us.

– William Taylor

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