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Mike Taylor, civil engineer with ties to health care and academic communities, dies at 75

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 13, 2019

City Engineer Mike Taylor talks about the Spokane Waste to Energy facility during a tour in this March 2018 photo. Taylor, a U.S. Army veteran, college instructor and decorated engineer, died Sept. 1 at age 75. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
City Engineer Mike Taylor talks about the Spokane Waste to Energy facility during a tour in this March 2018 photo. Taylor, a U.S. Army veteran, college instructor and decorated engineer, died Sept. 1 at age 75. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Mike Taylor never skipped a teaching opportunity.

That’s what his son, Alan Taylor, remembered about his dad on Thursday, as friends and colleagues in both the private sector and around Spokane City Hall paused to remember the life of a man whose scope of influence included major building projects in the region, health care and the city’s efforts to clean up the Spokane River.

Alan Taylor said he learned about storm drain design while riding with his dad to trick-or-treat in a subdivision he’d helped build. He was 9 years old and wearing a werewolf mask.

“We would get in a car and drive down the road, and during that drive, you were going to learn everything about that road,” said Alan Taylor, one of Mike Taylor’s sons.

Perry Michael “Mike” Taylor, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War who later served on a board that paved the way for the sale of Deaconess and Valley hospitals and was overseeing new construction at the Spokane Riverside Park Reclamation Facility, died Sept. 1 of a heart attack. He was 75.

Mourners filled the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on the South Hill on Thursday morning, a crowd of more than 200 people that included Spokane Mayor David Condon and many members of the city’s Public Works Division. They remembered a man who had spent the past decade of his life in service to the city, and a lifetime teaching the finer points of engineering.

“The good thing is that he charged us all with that engagement, and with that pride,” said Lonnie Moon, a city employee who’d been working on the wastewater treatment plant projects with Taylor since 2016.

Taylor was born in California on Oct. 4, 1943. He earned his high school diploma from Walla Walla High School in 1961, and later took a civil engineering degree from San Diego State University. He also served a 10-year stint in the Army, leaving with the rank of captain and earning a Bronze Star for service while overseas in Vietnam from November 1969 to July 1970.

Alan Taylor, who was born in 1968, said his dad didn’t talk much about the specifics of his deployment with the Corps of Engineers. As a captain, Mike Taylor was in charge of a squad of troops who’d often come under sniper fire while trying to build roads, roads that Taylor would later proudly show his son on Google Earth, still intact in southeast Asia after decades of use.

“Even when I would pick up a stick as a kid and kind of pretend it was a gun, he’d run and smack it out of my hand,” Alan Taylor said.

Mike Taylor moved with his first wife, Diane Stuckey, back to the Spokane area in 1974. Alan Taylor said his dad worked in farming implement design, drafting plans for greenhouses and later writing children’s software for the Timex Sinclair home computer.

The couple divorced, and Mike Taylor married Linda Marshall-White in 1982. They would live in Spokane for the next 37 years.

“He loved Spokane, and I think that’s what he was all about,” said Linda Taylor, at a reception held Thursday afternoon for her late husband at the downtown Spokane Club.

Taylor founded an engineering consulting firm with partner Dennis Scott in 1985. It later became Taylor Engineering, which over the years worked on runway extensions at Spokane International Airport, a redesign of Pioneer Plaza in downtown Ritzville and the Spokane Valley Mall, which opened its doors in 1997, according to the archives of The Spokesman-Review. The company was a frequent contributor to the Christmas Bureau, an annual holiday assistance program run by Catholic Charities.

Taylor also donated his time to local high school and college students, helping them with their engineering projects. In recent years, he’d been an adjunct professor at Gonzaga University’s School of Engineering & Applied Science.

In 2003, Taylor joined the board of Empire Health Services. Within five years, that board would negotiate the sale of two hospitals to a national firm, saving Deaconess and Valley hospitals from closure and creating the nonprofit Empire Health Foundation that continues to inject millions of dollars into public health efforts in the region.

Son Bill White said Mike Taylor was keenly interested in the goings-on in Spokane, and in going through his records the son discovered dozens of letters addressed to local politicians advocating for specific programs and initiatives.

“I asked Mike once, Why don’t you go into politics? Because he cared, and he was so involved,” White said. “He told me that he felt he could do more behind the scenes.”

Taylor retired from his private engineering firm in 2008 and quickly took a job as the city of Spokane’s civil engineer. He’d serve in that role until June 2013, when Condon reassigned Taylor to oversee new construction at the water treatment plant in Riverside Park. That work, slated for conclusion in 2021, includes the construction of new “membrane technology” that is intended to capture phosphorous, heavy metals and other pollutants from 50 million gallons of wastewater flowing through the sprawling facility daily.

In March 2018, on a tour of the facility, Taylor said the $126 million worth of work at the plant would likely be his last as a professional engineer.

“These will be my last projects,” Taylor said.“I feel like I’m going to retire this time.”

Lars Hendron, an engineer that had been working closely with Taylor on the membrane treatment and other enhancements at the water treatment facility, will now manage the final stages of the work.

City officials mourned Taylor’s death this week, with the City Council and mayor’s office issuing a proclamation on his behalf.

“He always had a gentle soul and a good spirit,” said City Councilwoman Karen Stratton, before reading the proclamation in his honor at the City Council meeting on Monday night. Condon issued a statement on his death, saying Taylor was “always a good listener for colleagues at the City, and he truly believed in servant leadership.”

Flags at City Hall were flown at half-staff Thursday in his honor.

Moon, the city employee who worked closely with Taylor and offered a eulogy with coworker Kara Heatherly on Thursday clad in casual Friday Hawaiian shirts that their former boss loved, said the team would continue the work in Taylor’s honor. He hoped the new facility would be named after Taylor, who never stopped teaching him.

“It’s a family, it’s a family affair,” Moon said. “Mike was everybody’s dad, brother, uncle, son, that you could connect with, and he would just connect with you.”

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