Obituaries

Davis Taylor, 56, who combined his loves of the blues and the outdoors

Mr. Taylor named his landscaping company after a blues musician, Hound Dog Taylor.
Mr. Taylor named his landscaping company after a blues musician, Hound Dog Taylor.

At social gatherings, Davis Taylor could effortlessly assume the persona of someone famous and, with dry wit, fill a room with laughter.

“Davis was, I would say, an almost professional-level impersonator,” his brother Ned recalled. “He did Nixon, he did Ted Kennedy, he did you name it, and it would be out-of-this-world spot-on — the tone, the intonation, the cadence.”

In his own life, Mr. Davis inhabited just as wide an array of roles. As a young man, he was a classics scholar who was at ease alone on the waves in kayaks and canoes — “anything with a paddle,” his brother said.

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A student of history, Mr. Taylor could absorb a thick book about an ancient war in a day or so, and he was equally thorough when he took up blues harmonica — highly disciplined, no matter the pursuit. “He would read for hours,” Ned said. “He would paddle a canoe for hours. He would practice harmonica for hours.”

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Mr. Taylor, who named his landscaping company after Hound Dog Taylor, a favorite blues musician, died April 27 in Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick of complications from pulmonary and cardiac ailments. He was 56 and lived in Wellesley.

“He was incredibly well-read,” said his wife, Dawn. “I would read something — let’s say about the Middle East. There’d be something I felt I wasn’t completely knowledgeable about, and I’d say, ‘OK, fill me in on the background on this,’ and he knew. He always knew.”

As a teenager at the Middlesex School in Concord, Mr. Taylor won a prize for his Latin scholarship. He also studied Greek as he pursued an undergraduate degree in classics.

“I thought I was good at Latin. He could speak Latin, he could write in Latin,” his brother said. “He could devour a book and have it logged in his brain. Like classics scholars, he would read and read and read. He could read a book every day, or almost every day.”

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That love of books was inspired by Mr. Taylor’s parents, who were both avid readers. His parents are Sally Coxe Taylor, of Boston, and the late William O. Taylor II. A former publisher and chairman of the Globe, and the fourth generation of his family to run the Globe, William Taylor died in 2011.

Davis Taylor — the namesake of his grandfather — was always low-key about his family’s history owning the Globe, which lasted from the 1870s to 1993.

“He came from this very Boston family, but he really could connect with people in all different worlds,” his wife said. “There were so many times he’d be friends with people, and something would come up about the Globe — maybe six months after he knew them – and they’d say, ‘Now, wait a minute, doesn’t your
father . . . ’ ”

Mr. Taylor initially worked in advertising at the Globe after college, but his interests lay elsewhere, and he left to work in landscaping and to learn arborist skills. In 1989, he launched Hound Dog Tree, which took its name from Hound Dog Taylor, the Chicago blues musician whose full name was Theodore Roosevelt Taylor. When Mr. Davis played, sometimes sitting in with a band during blues jam sessions, he appropriated the nickname Hound Dog himself.

“He practiced incessantly,” said his brother, who added that Mr. Taylor “researched all famous blues musicians,” including harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. “He was all about the old Mississippi Delta blues. We’re talking the old scratchy records from the ’40s.”

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The oldest of three brothers, William Davis Taylor was born in Boston and grew up in Medfield. He attended Charles River School in Dover and played varsity soccer, basketball, and baseball at the Middlesex School, from which he graduated in 1978.

Majoring in classics, he received a bachelor’s degree in 1982 from Colby College in Maine, where Dawn Lepanto was also a student. “We met probably three weeks into my freshman year at college, and that was it,” she said. “Although we’ve been married 27 years, we’ve really been together since 1980.”

Mr. Taylor’s wife added that “he was extremely self-deprecating and liked people to think he was this cranky curmudgeon, but he did a lot of really nice things for people. He seemed happiest when he could do things for people.”

That included the attention and concern he lavished on his daughter, Piper. While studying in Indonesia not long ago, Piper was photographed participating in a traditional Indonesian dance, and her father “showed that picture to everybody he knew because he was so proud of her.”

Piper, Dawn added, is “a very good student and loves learning, and that’s very much him.”

In addition to his wife, daughter, mother, and brother Ned, who lives in San Francisco, Mr. Taylor leaves his other brother, Gus of Maui.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Eliot Church in Natick.

Throughout his life, Mr. Taylor liked visiting his family’s home in Padanaram, a part of South Dartmouth, and spending time on Buzzards Bay with his relatives.

Ned Taylor thought of his brother as “a true old-fashioned scholar meets an outdoorsman,” an identity he established when he was young. One day, Mr. Taylor decided to kayak the circumference of Naushon Island, which is several miles long.

“He looked at the tide chart and said, ‘I’m just going to do it,’ and without any fanfare, he did,” his brother said. “He did it with one bottle of water and a peanut butter sandwich. That’s my super-human brother.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.