The photos of features writer Lois Taylor that graced the pages of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for 36 years featured well-dressed, genteel woman who one might imagine could have easily slipped into the high-society parties she wrote about in the ’60s and ’70s.
But while covering their social events, she often took the wealthy executives and powerful politicians down a few notches with her words — humorous, irreverent and often acerbic, though not outwardly so, earning her a coveted spot even among the toughest of news reporters.
Taylor’s versatility as a talented writer showed even after the society page gave way to feature stories ranging from the Keeaumoku Street bars to the opera. She ended her journalism career in October 1999 when she wrote her final Star-Bulletin column — on gardening, filled with parting words to her readers disguised as useful gardening tips but perhaps more a reflection on life.
Taylor died April 23 at the age of 96 in Boulder, Colo., where she lived her final years with her daughter, Emily Taylor.
“She was the most beautiful writer, a gifted writer,” retired Star-Bulletin news reporter Helen Altonn said. “She could cover things with a lot of humor. … She had some stories that were priceless about events that were funny. … One of her funniest was a society column for Frank Fasi’s birthday party. … She wrote the kind of story you want to see on the society page — honest and humorous.”
Another retired Star- Bulletin news reporter, Mary Adamski, said, “She had a way of — not mocking, she wasn’t sarcastic, but with wit. She had a way of describing over-the-top socialite events where people who took themselves very seriously about being the social class were. … It’s the kind of thing that papers wouldn’t cover these days, with bankers and plantation owners.”
Taylor’s column was much anticipated by her readers.
“Her writing was quick,” said Hildegaard Verploegen, a retired Star-Bulletin reporter who often filled in as features editor and would edit Taylor’s copy. “There was a sparkle. She could turn stuff out in no time. She had a terrific memory and she was interested in everything.”
Taylor often came into the office late at night after events and banged out the story on a typewriter.
“It seemed like Lois could write this column like it poured out of her … to come so easily,” Verploegen said. “I always wished Lois would have the option of doing a column of observations about life or what was happening in life and the world.”
“She had a way with words,” she said. “Oftentimes there were two ways to understand what she was writing. If you knew the situation, it was funnier than the dickens.”
Born Sept. 12, 1924, in San Francisco to Harry and Emily Clawson, she was their only child. Taylor graduated from Washington High School, then majored in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
At Berkeley she met Stanley Taylor Jr. They married, and he left for Naval Flight School while she went to Honolulu, where she lived with his parents until his return at the end of World War II. The couple had four children.
Taylor volunteered as a writer and editor for many local nonprofits, including the Junior League of Honolulu and Children’s Theater.
In 1963 she began her journalism career as a Star- Bulletin features writer. After the society page column, she wrote About People, a column on local happenings and people. She then wrote feature stories that included interviews with famous and interesting people.
“She flew on Air Force One with Nixon, and she was at the reception in Los Angeles for the returning astronauts for the first moon landing,” her daughter said.
Close friend Dee Smyser, who worked at the Star- Bulletin in the 1940s, got acquainted with Taylor in the 1950s when they volunteered at the Junior League and an opera magazine.
“She was an absolutely funny, very, very special person, helpful, a leader in this community in many things,” she said. “When she was writing her column, she could have a very tart tongue and biting.”
Until she moved to Colorado, Taylor had been a member of the Dim Sum Group, composed of mostly retired Honolulu journalists who got together monthly for lunch.
On Oct. 29, 1999, she began her final Star-Bulletin column — her 12-year-long gardening column: “It’s hard to know where to start when you’ve reached the end. I made the decision that the time had come to quit several months before the first announcement of the closure of the Star-Bulletin.”
She peppered it with gardening advice that could very well have been about life itself: “The best source of new ideas, like the bluebird of happiness, is in your own back yard.”
And the plants might have referred to people: “Ginger grows quickly. … Singapore holly grows slowly, and sometimes magnolia doesn’t seem to grow at all. So it is important to know what that pretty little plant you bought at a Foster Garden sale will look like in five years.
“Will it still be bashfully sitting there waiting to be recognized, will it have taken over the garden, or will it have gone early to the Great Compost Pit in the Sky?”
In the words of Verploegen, “If there’s a heaven, Lois will shake it up.”