Remembering Bodega’s Tom Taylor
By NATHAN HALVERSON | THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As co-founder of the Bodega Water Company in 1973, Tom Taylor often endured accusations that he wanted to over-develop the small village.
Yet a more lasting legacy is that he helped preserve one of Bodega’s most enduring landmarks: the Potter School.
Taylor died in Santa Rosa March 2 from complications of a stroke and old age. He was 89.
Taylor moved to Sonoma County in 1963 to become the director of training and education for the government agency that preceded the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In 1966, his wife Mary Evelyn Thames noticed a classified ad in The Press Democrat stating that county officials intended to sell the historic school house made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1962 movie “The Birds.”
The couple, who at the time lived in Bennett Valley with their three children, purchased the dilapidated school house built in 1873 and began fixing it up.
“The roof leaked. There was no running water. It was a mess,” said daughter Mary Leah Taylor, who now lives in the school house with her family. “Large owls were living in the attic. Literally, there was two feet of manure up there.”
Taylor and his wife eventually opened the Bodega Gallery in 1968 on the first floor of the Potter School, featuring the work of local artists and hosting openings for their friends from the Santa Rosa Art Guild and others. The couple moved into the second story in 1971.
“My parents were very bohemian in their vision and the way they thought about things,” Mary Leah Taylor said. “I remember one time when I had just turned 18 and my dad said to me, ‘You better go vote because if Nixon wins, nobody might get to vote again.’”
Taylor hadn’t always been such a pronounced Democrat. He was born May 1, 1920, in Bennington, Oklahoma. His parents, Charles and Delia Taylor, were poor farmers, and he attended Oklahoma Southeastern State University on a scholarship from the Baptist Student Union. He met Mary Evelyn Thames at a school dance, and they married in 1943.
During World War II he served as a Navy pilot stationed in Texas and patrolled the Gulf of Mexico for submarines.
“They were always very faith-based,” Mary Leah Taylor said. “But when we moved to California they moved into a more spiritual realm.”
After fixing up the Potter School, Taylor began purchasing tracts of land in and around Bodega and the nearby coast, often partnering with others on properties such as Chanslor Ranch, with 60 acres of wetland adjacent to Salmon Creek.
In 1973, Taylor teamed up with one of his frequent business partners, David Heiman, to bring water to some of their properties. They formed Bodega Water Company.
The effort was intended to bring water to homes he wanted to build in Bodega, but they soon found their neighbors wanted to tap into the system they were building. So the pair got to work.
“They were in their late 50s, and they were literally digging ditches and laying pipe,” Mary Leah Taylor said. “They began spending their time hooking up neighbors’ homes and charging only $10.”
Taylor ended up building just two new homes, and the water company put him and Heiman in the middle of water and development debates for 30 years. He retired from the board in 2001 at the age of 80. The next year he suffered a stroke.
The school house he helped preserve survived him, and that is how he intended it.
“My parents didn’t purchase the building because it had been in the movie,” Mary Leah Taylor said. “They purchased it because of their love of restoration and history.”
The couple divorced in 1974, and Mary Evelyn Thames died in 1994. Taylor is survived by his daughter, sons Tom Taylor III and Paul Taylor, three grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is scheduled for May 1 in Bodega. Call his daughter at 876-3257 to RSVP. Donations can be sent to the Bodega Volunteer Fire Department at P.O. Box 28, Bodega, CA.