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Teacher, legislator, social justice advocate: Taylor leaves lasting legacy


J. Paul Taylor ’42 ’54, revered New Mexico legislator and longtime educator, fought to give a voice to marginalized groups long before he founded the J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium at NMSU in 2005. 

Taylor passed away in February 2023, just two months before the annual symposium that bears his name. He had just celebrated his 102nd birthday the previous August. Taylor earned his first degrees when the university was called the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. He received a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in education and an honorary doctorate.

The 2023 J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium was the first to be held without him.

“Like everyone who knew Mr. Taylor, I deeply miss him and our conversations,” says Cynthia Bejarano ’95 ’97, NMSU Regents Professor and former chair of the symposium who worked closely with Taylor for many years. “I will miss seeing him at each symposium, as he was always interested in attending and engaging with every aspect of each year’s symposium. His wisdom, high energy, good humor and sweet disposition and passion for improving the lives of others will stay with me always.”

NMSU’s College of Arts and Sciences established the symposium and continued it year after year, based on Taylor’s support and encouragement. The symposiums have dealt with a wide range of topics from a regional discussion of controversial issues facing Doña Ana County, to issues impacting farm workers and their families.

“Mr. Taylor was the resounding voice of social justice in our region for decades,” Bejarano says. “He worked in higher education as the NMSU registrar and in public education as a schoolteacher and then principal. He was also a fierce advocate for bilingual and migrant education and worked for all students, children and youth alike, even those who were incarcerated.” 

At the 18th annual J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium in April 2023, which focused on justice for journalists, Taylor’s daughter, Mary Helen Ratje ’75 ’80, and grandson, Paul Ratje ’10, accepted a plaque honoring his many years of service to the causes of social justice. 

Taylor’s papers will be given to NMSU’s Library to be preserved in its Archives and Special Collections.