The Pied Piper of Providence

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I knew Wes as a fellow student at Providence Bible Institute in the mid-1940s. To put it bluntly, Weston Taylor was our resident character, an endearing oddball. Although burdened with a variety of physical disabilities that made even life's everyday tasks a challenge, nothing quenched his irrepressible spirit.

A sight those of us who were on campus in those days will never forget (and we saw it many times) was the shambling figure of Weston Taylor making his way up State Street toward the school's administration building with six or eight neighborhood kids of various sizes and colors in tow. They were charmed by his tomfoolery, intrigued by his inexhaustible supply of funny stories, and delighted by his trumpet imitation backed up by a honky-tonk accompaniment if he could find a free piano.

These kids didn't know much about the high and mighty of this world, but they knew instinctively that this guy was the real deal. This was not a phony performance. It was just Wes being Wes. We respected that. We thought of him as a sort of benign pied piper, minus the rats, an ambassador for Christ to the neighborhood. But to tell the truth, we didn't take him seriously.

But then at one Monday evening report hour, when it was Wes's turn to speak, he got up and said, "Today I went over to the capitol and had a word of prayer with the Governor."

Now many of us often strolled the sprawling grounds of the state capitol building, just a block from the school. But I dare say none of us had ever thought of inviting ourselves into the inner sanctum of governmental authority. Wes obviously had done just that. He further announced that he had invited His Excellency to lunch at the school on Wednesday and that his invitation had been graciously accepted.

It was as simple as that.

An official phone call cured a rapidly developing case of public relations jitters and confirmed that the Honorable John O. Pastore, Governor of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was indeed planning to have lunch with the student body on Wednesday. It proved to be a memorable occasion, the beginning of a long-standing friendship which continued through John Pastore's distinguished career as a United States Senator.

This story has a coda that lifts it to a different level. Wes Taylor was more than a cherished certified kook. For the last ten years of his short life, he tirelessly trudged the streets of Manhattan as director of street ministry for the Children's Bible Fellowship of New York. At his funeral, Reverend Winfield Ruelke, president of that organization, referred to Wes as "a giant of the faith in a weak body."

One can't help but wonder whether he might have visited City Hall at some point in those last ten years and offered to have a word of prayer with the Mayor, The Honorable Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Probably not. Word would have gotten around somehow. But we know this: the prospect wouldn't have fazed Weston Taylor one little bit.