John “Jack” Taylor, a talented artist and craftsman, TV Guide illustrator, Army veteran, passionate lover of the Wissahickon Valley Park and direct descendant of the 17th century Rittenhouse family, died suddenly while gardening in the backyard of his Germantown home on June 8. He was 87.
“It was most likely a heart attack,” said his wife Juanita, who described the sudden event as a “shock.”
“He had not been sick,” she said. “There was nothing to indicate there was a serious health problem.”
Jack was born July 12, 1935, to John E. Taylor and Doris Rittenhouse Shott. He grew up in the Somerton section of Northeast Philadelphia. He was an Eagle Scout and a graduate of Lincoln High School. After high school, Jack attended Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts), where he met his wife-to-be.
Jack graduated with a bachelor's degree in advertising design. After college, he entered the U.S. Army and was stationed in Alabama from 1958 to 1960. During his Army service, Jack illustrated the designs of Wernher Von Braun, an aerospace engineer known as the "Father of Rocket Science.” One of his illustrations is now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Jack and Juanita were married in 1961, and Jack served in the Army Reserve until 1964 – years during which they started their family and he began his career as a commercial artist.
In 1966, they moved to the home where they lived together for 57 years, and quickly became part of a thriving community of young families.
“When we moved here, there were 43 kids on the street, and it was wonderful,” Juanita said. “Kids would run in and out of each other’s yards.”
Jack was often lauded for his brilliance in the graphic arts, but he also was an expert in woodworking – though that was a hobby, and he did not sell his work. “Our house and yard are filled with his wonderful woodworking objects,” said Juanita.
He was known throughout his West Chelten community for his charm and cheerful demeanor as well as his witty commentary on various topics of neighborhood concern.
Jack’s love of the Wissahickon began as a child in the 1940s, when he would often spend weekends helping his grandmother, who lived in and ran the Valley Green Inn with a friend. The Inn was a favorite subject, and is featured in many of the paintings that hang on the walls of his home.
Jack, Jaunita and their girls spent many summers hiking and camping in Maine. He guided his family up every mountain in Acadia National Park, including a memorable nighttime hike, (no flashlights allowed), to watch meteor showers.
He climbed a mountain every year for his birthday, including Mt. Katahdin in Maine. “He would go climb mountains, and I would stay home with the dogs,” said Juanita. The whole family made the trek to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire for his 70th birthday celebration.
In recent years, Jack ventured out to the woods daily, accompanied by his dog, Archie, the latest in a long succession of faithful four-legged companions. He walked with a group of fellow dog lovers and Wissahickon enthusiasts. His favorite spot was Andorra Meadow.
Jack maintained close friendships from high school and college. His best friend from art school, George Krause, “was so shaken up, he couldn't talk when he found out what happened,” said Juanita.
In an online tribute, his dear friend Doug O’Looney wrote: “I’ll endure the hole in my heart he left until the end of my days.”
Jack’s connection to the Rittenhouse family – for whom Rittenhouse Square, Rittenhouse Town (the site of the first paper mill in North America in 1690) and Rittenhouse Street are named – dates back to William Rittenhouse, who was born in 1666.
“Jack never really looked into it, but my daughter researched it,” Juanita said, adding that it was just by coincidence that their home is just steps away from the historic section of the Wissahickon now called Rittenhouse Town.
“We did not move here intentionally, but we are catty-corner to the entrance to Rittenhouse Town on Lincoln Drive,” she said.
According to Juanita, Jack was a devoted fan of the Phillies, Flyers and the Eagles. He was also loyal reader of the Local.
“We have read the Local for years, so this is a real honor for Jack,” she said.
Jack is survived by his wife, Marion Juanita (Gilbert) Taylor, his daughters Jenny Taylor, Megan Taylor-Fetter and Gwen Taylor; his grandchildren Taylor Daisy and Bridget Curtin, Gregory Taylor-Power and Michael Fetter; his brother William Taylor, nieces Holly Taylor and Heather Cotton, grand-niece Taylor Cotton and pets Archie and Ginger.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Friends of the Wissahickon at https://fow.org/23jtaylor. A private memorial gathering will be held in the Wissahickon in the fall.
Members of Jack's family contributed to this article. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org