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John E. Taylor, 1921 - 2008

National Archives scholar for more than six decades

September 28, 2008|Joe Holley | Washington Post

John E. Taylor, a scholar known for his encyclopedic knowledge of World War II intelligence records and his ability to find the most arcane material in the National Archives, where he worked for 63 years, died of congestive heart failure Sept. 20 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 87.

Thousands of scholars, writers, journalists and other researchers relied on Taylor's grasp of history and his familiarity with archival material. Writers who depended on his expertise included Stephen Ambrose, James Bamford and Barbara Tuchman.

Taylor's knowledge of the records of the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency, "really was encyclopedic," said Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society based in McLean, Va. "There was no one better."

William J. Casey, director of the CIA during the Reagan administration and an OSS officer during World War II, often dropped by Taylor's office to hear about recent discoveries.

The National Archives has collected nearly 1,000 books on intelligence and espionage, based largely on research at the archives, in the John E. Taylor Collection. Most are signed by their authors and cite Taylor's help in the acknowledgments. Many were from Taylor's personal library.

"John Taylor was the first person I met at the National Archives many years ago while searching for a dissertation topic," Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States, said in a statement. "With me as with everyone, Mr. Taylor was generous with his time and with his ideas. His distinguished career brought honor to the dogged research enterprise which the Archives embodies."

John Edward Taylor was born on a farm near Sparkman, Ark., in 1921 and earned a bachelor's degree in social work at the University of Arkansas in 1945.

Blind in one eye and ineligible for military service, he thought about joining the OSS but moved to Los Angeles to live with his parents. They had settled on the West Coast while their other son served with the Marine Corps in the Pacific.

Taylor and his father were working at American Can Co. when the son received a letter from the National Archives offering him a job in its Navy branch. He accepted the job and arrived in Washington in September 1945. He never left.

For those who asked him over the years when he might retire, he had a standard answer: "Not this week."

His wife of 44 years, Dolly, died in 1995. There are no immediate survivors.

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