Bill Taggart, 55: Morehouse officer succeeded in more than business

2:23 p.m Wednesday, June 14, 2017 Education
William ‘Bill’ Taggart

The basement of Bill Taggart’s home is a shrine to two of his many passions, Atlanta sports and music.

Autographed pictures of sports legends collected through the years line the walls, along with pennants from every hometown team from the Atlanta Chiefs to Braves.

Record albums collected starting in his college disc jockeying days run floor to ceiling.

“He was a Renaissance man,” said Taggart’s partner, Wonya Lucas. “He had a depth to him beyond what he did in business.”

William J. “Bill” Taggart, 55, businessman, community leader, family man and newly appointed interim president of Atlanta’s Morehouse College, died unexpectedly June 8 of an aneurysm at his Atlanta home.

A public memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Morehouse, where Taggart had been chief operating officer since 2015 and interim president since April 7 when President John S. Wilson was removed.

Willie Woods, a 1985 Morehouse graduate and chairman of it board of trustees, described Taggart, who he’d known since college, as “smart, gracious, passionate, well-connected and well-liked by everyone. He was just full of energy and a person who decided to get out of the business world and do something more purposeful.”

Taggart was born at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital on Dec. 15, 1961. He grew up in the city’s Adamsville community and was the oldest of the three children of Marian Howard Taggart and James Taggart.

He also had a close connection to the city’s Westside, where his grandparents Henry and Eliza Howard lived. He credited his grandfather with helping him develop his analytical mind by using coins to teach him math skills. And he attributed his lifelong love of the Atlanta Braves to his grandmother, with whom he shared the joy of watching baseball from an early age.

After graduation from Atlanta’s Northside High School, Taggart earned his bachelor’s degree from Howard University and his master’s from Harvard Business School, in business administration. He later received an honorary doctorate in business from Atlanta’s Morris Brown College.

At Howard, Taggart forged a lifelong friendship with Chris Lemmie, now a senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Education.

Taggart, who was best man at Lemmie’s wedding, was always concerned about people who were struggling, about social justice and access to economic opportunity, Lemmie said.

“He could have chased a lot bigger dollars, but he wanted to give back to more people than what a corporate executive’s job might do,” he said. And, “Even though he was a serious person, he tried to inject humor into everything he did,” Lemmie said.

Stan Rosenzweig, a private investor from Boston and a close from their Harvard Business School days, said Taggart had charisma and a unique ability to truly listen. “You knew he was going to make a difference in the world.”

At Harvard, Taggart was affectionately known as “Dolla Bill” and played intramural sports and earned money for school by DJing at parties, something he continued throughout his life for family and friends.

While at Howard, he interned in the Reagan Administration, a positive experience that later brought him back to civil service as the chief operating officer of federal student aid in the Obama Administration.

He worked at IBM and Wachovia before returning to Atlanta to become chief executive officer of Atlanta Life Financial Group.

He immersed himself in business and community boards including 100 Black Men of America, the Atlanta Rotary Club, the Woodruff Arts Center, Carver Bank and Westside Future Fund.

Taggart also was board chairman of the Atlanta Business League, an organization that fosters opportunities for African-American companies and business leaders.

He married Lydia Roston in 1998, and the couple had a daughter, Elizabeth. Mrs. Taggart died in 2013. He later found love again with Wonya Lucas, who had been a classmate at Northside High School.

“He was very engaged, but also doing things not the norm to collect different types of experiences,” such as playing high school soccer, then a predominantly white sport, Lucas said.

She said one of Taggart’s most endearing traits was his intense love for Atlanta. She said he often talked about the vibrant African-American community of his youth and of its business icons, such as Jesse Hill and Herman Russell.

Taggart loved music, traveling, being a Falcons season ticket holder and being at the Braves first game in SunTrust Park, Lucas said.

He also was devoted to his mother, sisters, huge extended family and, of course, his daughter, she said.

“He was a hands-on father,” Lucas said. He drove his daughter to school every day and picked her up as often as his schedule permitted, helped with homework and made sure Elizabeth had a chance to see different parts of the world.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to “The Bill Taggart Memorial Trust for the benefit of Elizabeth Taggart,” Green Square Capital, 6075 Poplar Ave., Suite 221, Memphis, Tenn. 38119 or to the “William J. Taggart Scholarship Fund,” Morehouse College, 830 Westview Drive, Atlanta, Ga. 30314.

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