Behind every great man, is a great woman the saying goes, but in Willard and Rayoleen Taylor’s case, they stood beside each other.
Now you may have heard of Willard, Payson’s second and arguably most influential mayor in the town’s formation, but you may never have heard of his wife Rayoleen, who played an active, albeit smaller role in the community.
While Willard was out building swimming pools, paving roads, serving on boards and acquiring a senior center, Rayoleen was at home raising their two children, serving on the PTA, as a Girl Scout leader and gardening.
Rayoleen grew up in Miami, Ariz. where her dad was a miner. She came to Phoenix, when her dad became a firefighter at the Valley’s station No. 1.
While attending Phoenix Union High School, Rayoleen met Willard in journalism class. Willard was an all American athlete and had competed in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. He was named all-state quarterback, but several injuries meant he would never compete on the college or professional level.
Fresh out of high school, the pair married in 1937.
Willard took a job with Arizona Game and Fish and was transferred to Indian Gardens (which used to be by Kohl’s Ranch) to work the fish hatchery for two years. In 1939, he worked at Roosevelt Lake and was moved back to the Valley to work the hatchery at Papago Park (where the zoo stands today). Rayoleen said she remembers the cavalry would ride through the front yard frequently.
After several years with Game and Fish, Willard applied for a job with the Phoenix Fire Department in 1940 and was one of 28 successful applicants out of 1,000.
For the next 18 years, Willard worked as a firefighter while Rayoleen continued to raise their children, Lynne (Hanna) and Allen.
All the while, Taylor officiated football and basketball games across the country. This part-time career would last 30 years.
Moving to Payson
Finally, in the 1970s, after Willard’s retirement, the Taylors moved back to Payson.
“We always wanted to come back,” she said. “We owned a small piece of land and would come up here to take care of it.”
Willard soon became president of the chamber of commerce because “Payson needed someone and he needed something to do.”
Willard, along with chamber member Chuck Crabtree, helped acquire and construct much of Rumsey Park.
The Taylors, who frequently purchased real estate to flip, decided to do the same thing in Payson. They purchased a rundown Oxbow Saloon and remodeled it. At the time, it was also a hotel with a pool. After fixing it up, the Taylors sold it.
In 1976, Willard won the mayor’s seat, which he would hold until 1984.
Lynne and her husband, John Hanna, said Willard was one of the most forward-thinking persons you could meet.
In his eight years as mayor, the town was never in debt and Willard never took a paycheck for his position.
“He wanted to do everything right, he was very ethical,” they said.
Willard paved 60 of Payson’s 90 miles of dirt roads during his administration, he helped acquire the senior center’s current building and assisted in bringing the federal hot meal program to town. He also helped establish the police department.
“He made the most impact of any mayor,” John said.
In 1985, the town council named Taylor Pool after Willard.
While Willard served the town, Rayoleen worked with the hospital auxiliary (where she said she ironed half of Payson’s clothes), volunteered with the Payson Historical Society (where she was a docent at the museum) and with the United Methodist Church.
“I had a very busy, full life,” she said.
In 1996, Willard passed at the age of 78.
While in her late 70s, Rayoleen joined the Payson Athletic Club. For the next 12 years, she worked out three days a week at the club, becoming a hometown celebrity of sorts.
On her 90th birthday, firefighters even picked her up at the club to take her on a joy ride. A minor fall however, meant Rayoleen could no longer work out at the club regularly. Rayoleen said staying active at the club gave her a social life.
Today, Rayoleen, 90, occupies her time with reading and spending time with family, which includes three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“I feel very lucky, I am well,” she said.