Hurl Taylor, 77, walks out with a big smile during the recessional on May 9. Decades after graduating from Emory Law, he received a master’s degree from Candler School of Theology to support his prison ministry. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres

DeKalb man, 77, earns his eighth degree

It’s fair to say that Hurl Taylor loves to learn.

The 77-year-old Ellenwood great-grandfather and prominent attorney on Monday earned his eighth degree, this time a Master of Religion in Public Life from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

The program is not for someone interested in ordination, but rather someone who wants to be more effective in their work or volunteer lives.

“I’m really excited because I think sometimes, senior citizens kind of pine away,” said Taylor, who still practices law. “They don’t do a lot. Going back to school, for me, keeps the old mind very active and I like academics.”

After graduation, Taylor, who shows no sign of slowing down, plans to go to Germany for three weeks with other Candler students and faculty members as part of a study trip to examine the place of contemporary religion in Germany ahead of the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The group will meet with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders and will also engage issues around the religious response to the refugee crisis.

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This is Taylor’s second degree from Emory.

He earned a law degree from the university in 1985 at age 47.

Taylor was one of the lead defense attorneys during the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial. It was after that trial that Taylor, whom many people expected to take time off, decided to return to school for his most recent degree.

“I really needed a break,” from such a long trial, said the divorced father of five. “I seriously started thinking that I wanted to get a bit more religious education and I wanted to use it more or less to teach and work with youth in prison.”

He plans to use his studies to teach and help in the prison ministry at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, which he joined in 2012. The ministry makes regular visits to DeKalb Regional Youth Detention Center.

He’s on familiar ground. While stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, with the U.S. Army, Taylor served as president of the Protestant Men of the Chapel, and his duty was to go into German prisons and minister to and write letters for English-speaking inmates.

Education was something his parents, who both completed the 10th grade, always stressed to their children.

A native of Richmond, Va., Taylor earned his first degree in biology from Hampton University in 1960. His plan at the time was to teach biology to high school students.

It was during the height of the civil rights movement and four years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin and gender. Teaching was one of the best jobs available for African-Americans.

Taylor didn’t go into the classroom right away, though. He was also a member of the ROTC, which meant a week after graduation he was headed to the U.S. Army for a three-year commitment that ended up stretching to 20 years and included two tours in Vietnam, where he earned the Purple Heart.

After his stint in the Army, Taylor began teaching high school biology at Stone Mountain High School.

“It was quite challenging,” Taylor said. “After doing 20 years in the Army then being faced with 10th-graders, the Army was easier. Getting up early, jumping out of airplanes, being in the jungle was easier than the disciplinary problems you have with 10th-graders.”

He returned to school and earned degrees from Georgia State University.

“He’s always been an overachiever,” said daughter Terri Taylor, who lives in Brookhaven. “It motivates me to want to do bigger and better things. He’s a great example of a man and a father.”

She has no doubt that he will set a good example for those juvenile offenders as well.

“Many of the people we visit have some relatively deep-seated religious convictions,” Hurl Taylor observed. “Many were members of churches or they had a grandmother who was a faithful member of a church. They may have gone astray, but it doesn’t mean they forgot God or Jesus. … We don’t preach to them about right and wrong and we certainly don’t condemn them. We give them that hope that they will be out at some point and they can continue to do God’s great work.”

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