Obituary of Taylor S. Desloge: Attorney and business executive, led Missouri History Museum board
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 20, 2013 - Taylor S. Desloge, whose background in economics and law fueled both his business career in the steel industry and his service as a civic leader, died Sun., Feb. 17. He was 91. The cause was complications of recently diagnosed lung cancer, said a son, Stephen Desloge.
A memorial service will be Thurs., Feb. 28, at Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church.
Mr. Desloge, the great-grandson of lead mining pioneer Firmin Desloge, led some of St. Louis’ most storied institutions during critical periods, including the Missouri Historical Society, now the Missouri History Museum. Mr. Desloge had lived in Ladue for more than 30 years before moving to Bethesda Barclay House about a year and a half ago.
“Taylor was a bulwark of strength and stability when the museum was shaky; when there was a question about its leadership and financing; when there were questions about its survival,” said George Herbert “Bert” Walker III, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary.
As president of the board of trustees from 1985-87, he spearheaded the History Museum’s funding through the St. Louis Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District. In 1988, the History Museum joined four other cultural institutions in the district: the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis Science Center. Mr. Desloge served continuously on the History Museum board from 1978 until his death.
The museum’s present woes regarding a questionable real estate deal “were tearing him up,” his son said. “He hated the thought that it has to go through this. He was proud he’d helped get it firmly established.”
Mr. Desloge graduated from Saint Louis University High School in 1938 and from Saint Louis University with a degree in economics in 1942. He immediately enlisted in the Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant.
His four years of service during World War II were spent stateside in supply chain management: first at Mitchell Field, N.Y. and then Hawaii. He was a captain when he mustered out in 1946, continuing his service in the reserves.
He returned to St. Louis and followed his father’s path, entering Washington University School of Law. Despite a rigorous schedule, he did not sacrifice fun.
“He never missed a party,” laughed his wife, Marian Desloge. “He worked as hard as he played and played as hard as he worked.”
His practice of law was short-lived. He completed an executive business training program at Harvard University and briefly entered the business world as an insurance executive.
In 1955, Mr. Desloge joined General Steel Industries, then the leading manufacturer of rail rapid transit equipment; it merged with Lukens Steel Co. in 1982. His work took him across the country to places like New York where General Steel helped satisfy the growing appetite of the city’s Transit Authority. It filled orders for more than 1,800 subways cars.
He retired in 1985, having served as the company’s vice president, secretary and treasurer and as a member of the board of directors.
“Taylor was a wonderful human being; he was smart with wide interests and lots of energy,” said William H. “Bill” Danforth, chancellor emeritus of Washington University and a friend for more than 60 years. “People liked working with him.
”He had a good mind for figures, but what really mattered was that he cared,” Danforth said. “He wanted things to be successful.”
Leaving a footprint
Mr. Desloge took his financial acumen to corporate boardrooms, serving as a director of Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co., Brentwood Bank, General American Capital Corp. and the Pilot Fund of Boatman’s Trust Co.
His philanthropy touched thousands of lives.
“Taylor was one of those people who believed in civic responsibility and the obligation to give back to the community,” said Karen M. Goering, chief operating officer of the History Museum. “He was both charming and irascible and he always told you exactly what he thought; there was a refreshing honesty to him.”
In addition to helping to shore up the museum’s finances, he tackled inventory control after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a number of artifacts were apparently missing from the History Museum. Accustomed to getting media calls, with his usual wry humor, Mr. Desloge said during the investigation, “I even had reporters’ home phone numbers.”
He was on the board of directors of the Independence Center, which his cousin, the late Richard Stith, helped found, the Museum of Transportation, St. John’s Mercy Hospital and the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute.
Mr. Desloge was chair of Associated Industries of Missouri and in 1985, he helped organize the committee for the first National Senior Olympics Organization, serving as the organization’s first treasurer. He was treasurer and chief financial officer of the VP Fair Foundation and he served on the 1986 governor’s task force on tort reform.
Mr. Desloge, confirmed George Taylor Stith Desloge, was born in St. Louis on June 16, 1921. He was the youngest of George Thatcher Desloge and Madeleine Stith Desloge’s four children. He grew up in St. Louis Hills on the city’s near south side.
Soon after law school, he met Marian Franciscus Falk. She admitted she was soon “smitten.” They were married on July 7, 1950, and set up housekeeping on Kingsbury Place in the city, where they raised seven children.
“We had a very busy, frantic time when the children were growing up,” Marian Desloge fondly recalled. “There was a crisis around every corner, but we were experts at coping.”
The chaos would often be quelled by Mr. Desloge belting out a show tune, accompanied by a player piano. And could he dance.
“He was always the first person to get up on the dance floor,” said Carol Walker, Bert’s wife and Mr. Desloge’s willing partner. “When others were loath to do so, Taylor would get up and I was delighted to help him lead the parade to the dance floor.”
He was an all-around performer. He acted in community theater, often playing the a role he knew well: father. That was his part in "The Reluctant Debutante" and other plays whose titles have been lost to history.
What Marian Desloge remembers, was that “anytime he could be on the stage, he was happy.”
Each of his children, in whom he professed great pride, spent the final minutes with him. During his time, Stephen, who said his father’s faith was central to his life, whispered, “Dad, you are moving on to a better place,” to which Mr. Desloge responded, “Hallelujah!”
He was preceded in death by his parents and brothers, Richard C. Desloge and John M. Desloge.
In addition to his wife of 62 years, Marian Franciscus Falk Desloge, and his son, Stephen Falk Desloge (Ann), of St. Louis, Mr. Desloge is survived by his other children, Marian (Lindsay) Desloge Guenther (the late Richard) of Wichita, Kan., Madeleine Desloge Kemp (Dennis) of Phoenix, Ariz., George Taylor “Tim” Desloge (Maria), identical twins Allan Desloge (Marybeth) and Phillip C. Desloge (Carolyn), all of St. Louis, and Judeth Desloge Egan (Thomas), of Libertyville, Ill.
He is also survived by his sister, Sister Madeleine Desloge, RSCJ, of California; 19 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m., Thurs., Feb. 28, at Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church, 401 South Lindbergh Blvd., in Creve Coeur.
Mr. Desloge donated his body to Saint Louis University School of Medicine.
In lieu of flowers, masses preferred, or tributes may be made to Independence Center, 4245 Forest Park Avenue, St. Louis, Mo. 63108, or Saint Louis University High School, 4970 Oakland Ave, St Louis, MO 63110.