A tribute to those who left a mark on our province
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/7/2019 (606 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On a frigid day in 1964, Const. George Robert (Bob) Taylor saved a woman from being swept away in the icy Assiniboine River — and never spoke about it.
Taylor received a commendation for the rescue, and for one other incident during his 36 years with the Winnipeg Police Service. He stoically took the honours in stride, and resumed his work and life as a dedicated family man.
Taylor retired on Jan. 30, 1989, at the rank of inspector, just two weeks after his 57th birthday.
After a busy and adventurous retirement, he died on Jan. 17 at age 86, in Kelowna, B.C. His wife of more than 60 years, Lorraine, who was a teacher in Winnipeg for 35 years, died in 2017.
Taylor was fiercely proud of being a police officer and of his family; he lived both these pieces of his life simultaneously and in harmony, but they didn’t cross over. Even now, the family knows little about his police honours, said Taylor’s son, Scott.
"It was the time and the type of man he was. He left work at work," Scott said. "I sort of remember something as a kid (hearing) about the lady in the water... He just didn’t talk about those things.
"But he loved being a police officer. He totally loved it."
The stories would end there except for entries in Taylor’s personnel file and service record, which were shared by WPS Const. Tammy Skrabek, curator of the Winnipeg Police Museum.
On Dec. 29, 1964, Taylor received a Merit Entry and was granted one week of special leave with pay for saving a woman from drowning. A typewritten letter of recommendation by Insp. James Allan of B division included endorsements from three other officers, written by hand on the top, left margin and bottom of the letter.
The letter described a dramatic scene. Taylor, Const. R.R. Truesdale (who was also commended) and Const. J. Chalmers responded to a 999 call (the forerunner to 911) to find a woman in peril in the river, surrounded by ice chunks.
"Constable Taylor, without any thought of personal safety, proceeded out on the ice blocks to the woman," the letter reads. "The ice tossed and turned, and Constable Taylor was unable to hold his footing and slipped into the icy water. He was able to apprehend the woman but was unable to manipulate her onto a board that had been placed at his disposal."
The letter says Truesdale went into the water, attached a rope to the board and, along with other officers, pulled the woman and Taylor out of the water.
"This was an outstanding action on Taylor’s part, the kind that we would each have to be confronted with to know if we would react as well," one of the handwritten endorsements read.
His record also notes a February 1962 "St. John Ambulance Priory Meritorious Certificate for successful application of artificial respiration performed on a child (in) 1961."
A letter of recommendation to the superintendent of police stated Taylor "acted in a manner which reflects credit on the police department and his actions are worthy of a commendation."
The document describes Taylor sitting in his living room on Downing Street, when he heard brakes screeching. He ran to the street to find the five-year-old son of a neighbour had been hit by a car and was critically injured.
Taylor took the licence of the teenage boy driving the car, called police and an ambulance, and "performed artificial respiration successfully on the injured child who was not breathing. Constable Taylor continued artificial respiration on the child en route to the Children’s Hospital until handed over to the medical staff at the hospital."
Unfortunately, the child later died.
Taylor, who was born in Portage la Prairie, was just 19 when he earned his private pilot’s licence at Southport in 1951. He had planned to become a commercial pilot but the cost of training was a barrier.
"His brother was already on the police force... Jack Taylor and his partner, Pete Vander Graaf, were two famous detectives in Winnipeg. So I think that’s what drew him there," Scott said.
After becoming a police officer in 1953, Taylor married Lorraine Robinson. The couple had Scott in 1960, and a daughter, Lori, in 1962. The family was dealt a devastating blow when Lori died at 18 from a brain aneurysm.
Scott described his dad as loving his Fort Garry neighbourhood, heading with Lorraine to Yuma, Ariz., for 21 winters, and basking in the sun at their Traverse Bay cottage for 30 summers.
"They were the type of people that always opened their house to everybody. Feed them and ask them to stay," Scott said.
In his retirement, Taylor developed his love for wood carving and photography.
"Flying and photography were two things my dad really enjoyed, and that’s what my two kids (a pilot and a photographer) ended up doing. He was incredibly proud of that," Scott said.
Taylor was also an accomplished marksman, who competed in events around the world. The highlight was the 1988 International Law Enforcement Olympics in Sydney, Australia, where he competed in the police combat shoot.
"At one time, he was one of the best (police marksmen) in Canada. He had a whole basement full of trophies," Scott said, noting shooting was a family sport, as he and Lorraine also participated. "His best friends were his fellow police officers, and we went on lots of shooting competitions with the police team."
Taylor likely got a certificate for the river rescue, however, Scott said no awards have turned up yet in his dad’s belongings — but it would be special to find.