Mary Rose Taylor, brain-health advocate, founder of the Margaret Mitchell House dies

Mary Rose Taylor and her husband Dennis Lockhart shared a moment at their Buckhead condo in 2017. Well-known to Atlanta from her broadcast news and Margaret Mitchell House days, Taylor became a champion of the fight against neurodegenerative disease, while fighting her own battle against ALS. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Mary Rose Taylor and her husband Dennis Lockhart shared a moment at their Buckhead condo in 2017. Well-known to Atlanta from her broadcast news and Margaret Mitchell House days, Taylor became a champion of the fight against neurodegenerative disease, while fighting her own battle against ALS. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The former television news anchor relentlessly pursued causes she held dear.

Mary Rose Taylor, the indefatigable Atlanta mover and shaker, continued to work on the third chapter of her life even after she could no longer walk, speak, eat or breathe.

When she was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease in 2014, she was in middle of the effort to help create the Emory Brain Health Center, a unique research facility that put together Emory’s study and treatment of all neurological diseases under one roof.

She was no medical doctor. Her training came from four years tending to her husband Mack Taylor, who died of Alzheimer’s in 2008. Her super power came from her long list of influential friends and connections, and her ability to persuade almost anyone to do almost anything.

“You can’t tell Mary no,” said the Atlanta History Center’s Sheffield Hale, who saw Taylor in action when she resurrected the twice-burned Margaret Mitchell House. I don’t know of anybody who is more effective at mobilizing people than Mary was."

Eventually unable to use even her thumb to write emails, she relied on her eye-gaze computer to meet with Brain Center officials and seek support from CEOs.

Mary Rose Taylor, 75, died Monday of the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to her third husband, Dennis Lockhart.

In the end even her eyes were paralyzed, said Lockhart, former president and CEO of the Federal Reserve in Atlanta. But she could still blink. She used that last sliver of ability to signal her choice of candidates as Lockhart read the names off her absentee ballot in Tuesday’s election.

“This woman cared about the world and the state of the country quite literally to the end,” he said.

Mary Rose Taylor, once an articulate voice in the effort to battle neuro-degenerative diseases, eventually communicated by using her iPhone. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Mary Rose Taylor, once an articulate voice in the effort to battle neuro-degenerative diseases, eventually communicated by using her iPhone. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Mary King’s family moved from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Greensboro, N.C. when she was a child, and she felt like an alien in the South, she said. She compensated by excelling, attending the University of North Carolina, where she became homecoming queen and the head of the Carolina Political Union.

She also met Duke University law student Charlie Rose and the two were married.

In New York she was a researcher for the famed CBS news program “60 Minutes” and introduced Rose to Bill Moyers, helping her husband get his own television career started. “Mary was responsible for that,” Rose told the AJC in 1995. (By then he was a nationally syndicated talk show host.) “She was certainly looking after me.”

Mary Rose moved to Atlanta in 1980 where she became a producer and then on-air talent at WXIA television news. Her marriage to Rose ended at the same time.

Real estate developer Mack Taylor admired Mary’s broadcasts. On their first date he told her they should get married. They did.

She left television news, became involved in the Chamber of Commerce, helped manage Bill Campbell’s 1993 mayoral campaign and sat on many boards, especially for education nonprofits.

In the 1990s the triple-named Mary Rose Taylor focused her vision on the Midtown apartment building where Margaret Mitchell wrote most of “Gone With the Wind.” Previous efforts to save the building had failed, and by then it was a deteriorating shell.

In 1994 the partly refurbished building was destroyed by arsonists. Automaker Daimler-Benz pledged $4.5 million to rebuild. Then, in May 1996, 40 days before the beginning of the Atlanta Olympics, arsonists burned the building again.

Miraculously, Mitchell’s apartment on the first floor was spared both times. Taylor rebuilt once more. When the museum finally opened in 1997, she noted wryly, “Practice makes perfect.”

A distraught Mary Rose Taylor, Founder and Chairman of Margaret Mitchell House, stands outside of the building at 10th and Peachtree Streets. The restored house burned in an early morning fire in 1996. (AJC Photo/Dwight Ross Jr.) 5/96
A distraught Mary Rose Taylor, Founder and Chairman of Margaret Mitchell House, stands outside of the building at 10th and Peachtree Streets. The restored house burned in an early morning fire in 1996. (AJC Photo/Dwight Ross Jr.) 5/96

Credit: DWIGHT ROSS JR.

Credit: DWIGHT ROSS JR.

Her effort had detractors. Many readers saw the book as praise for the antebellum world of slavery and magnolias. In the majority-Black city of Atlanta, some hoped “Gone With the Wind” would just go. (Playwright and activist Pearl Cleage said she was “delighted” that the house burned.)

But Taylor had a wider vision of Margaret Mitchell, especially after she discovered that Mitchell secretly helped pay tuition for at least 40 Black medical students at Morehouse College.

Jennifer Dickey, associate professor of history at Kennesaw State University, wrote about the problematic effort to memorialize Mitchell in her book, “A Tough Little Patch of History.”

Taylor succeeded, said Dickey, by bringing to bear all of her connections, both political, personal and business, by luring in a German automaker, and through her own indomitable will.

Taylor avoided making the museum a shrine to Mitchell by using the facility to host the Center for Southern Literature, a regular series of author events at the Margaret Mitchell House where issues of race and region were discussed by such writers as Tony Horwitz, Pat Conroy and Tom Wolfe.

She was doing it for the city, said Dickey, because Atlanta needed to acknowledge that one of the most famous novels in the world was born here. She would not be dissuaded. “She was one of the most purpose-driven people that I’ve ever met in my life."

Mary Rose Taylor, former executive director of the Margaret Mitchell Foundation, and Dr. Otis Smith, recipient of a scholarship (tuition award) from Margaret Mitchell to attend Morehouse School of Medicine, stood in front of the newly renovated 'dump' in 1997. (AJC Staff Photo/Jean Shifrin)
Mary Rose Taylor, former executive director of the Margaret Mitchell Foundation, and Dr. Otis Smith, recipient of a scholarship (tuition award) from Margaret Mitchell to attend Morehouse School of Medicine, stood in front of the newly renovated 'dump' in 1997. (AJC Staff Photo/Jean Shifrin)

Credit: JEAN SHIFRIN

Credit: JEAN SHIFRIN

That same drive helped her cope with a degenerative disease that gradually robbed her of everything but her ability to think. “Mary’s brain is as sharp as it ever was," said Lockhart in 2017. “It’s just her body has failed her.”

Lockhart proposed on Christmas day in 2013. Mary was already sick then, but was diagnosed in October 2014. She said she couldn’t burden him with her illness. He told her that he needed her, and so did a lot of other people. “I won that argument,” said Lockhart.

She lured television reporter Jaye Watson away from WXIA to document the growth of the Brain Health Center, in a series of documentary videos that became a GPB series, “Your Fantastic Mind.” (The series recently won an Emmy.)

“She was always the most beautiful woman in the room,” said Watson, “but the beauty hid the rest of it, which was sheer brilliance.”

At a fundraiser that benefited the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center were (from left) event co-chair Mary Rose Taylor; honoree Dan Carithers with his wife, Nancy Carithers; Nancy Corzine, board president of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation; and Leonard Lauder, co-founder of the ADDF and a co-chair of the fundraiser.
At a fundraiser that benefited the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center were (from left) event co-chair Mary Rose Taylor; honoree Dan Carithers with his wife, Nancy Carithers; Nancy Corzine, board president of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation; and Leonard Lauder, co-founder of the ADDF and a co-chair of the fundraiser.

Credit: Jim Fitts

Credit: Jim Fitts

In her honor the lobby at center was named the Mary Rose Taylor Family Lobby. A striking portrait of the former newswoman hangs on the wall there, in one of her accustomed bright red outfits.

Dr. Allan Levey, professor and chair of neurology at Emory University and a founding director of the Emory Brain Health Center, said the portrait is focal point of the lobby.

“Every morning I walk into work and look at that portrait and think, ‘We’re here because of Mary.’”

Mary Rose Taylor is survived by Dennis Lockhart, Lockhart’s daughter Dorsey Lockhart, and Mack Taylor’s children, daughter Camille Taylor McDuffie and son Andrew Taylor. Services are undecided during COVID-19, but will be arranged by H.M. Patterson & Son.

Lockhart said Taylor directed that her brain be donated to Emory University for the study of neurological disease.

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