Rest easy, brother Brett

Thousand Oaks, Greater Conejo Valley mourns passing of local icon



SO LONG, PARTNER—Brett Taylor dons western wear to accompany his “Buckaroo Brett” parade moniker. He was named grand marshal of the upcoming Conejo Valley parade just weeks before his death. Courtesy of Fargo’s Angels parade committee

SO LONG, PARTNER—Brett Taylor dons western wear to accompany his “Buckaroo Brett” parade moniker. He was named grand marshal of the upcoming Conejo Valley parade just weeks before his death. Courtesy of Fargo’s Angels parade committee

Over a dozen uniformed sheriff’s deputies and firefighters lined up along Thunderbird Drive on Monday of last week. They placed their hands over their hearts as medical examiner’s staff slowly rolled a stretcher draped with an Amer­ican flag past a sign that said “Brett’s Firehouse.”

The solemn moment was a fitting honor for a man who had been one of the most beloved members of Ventura County’s first responder community for the past five decades.

Brett Taylor, a socially gifted special needs adult and popular community fixture who volunteered with police and firefighters for 48 years, passed away at his home in Thousand Oaks on March 18. He was 66 years old.

Thousand Oaks Police Chief Jeremy Paris presided over the impromptu pro­cession, which he said was “appropriate for someone who worked with law enforcement.” He said Taylor’s kind­hearted and trustworthy nature earned him a rare position of trust within the inner ranks of law enforcement. It also earned him the nickname of “Brother Brett.”

“We’re just trying to honor him in every way we can,” Paris said. “He was unique.”

Taylor was also unique for his independence, brother-in-law Ben Stauffer said. After his parents died, Taylor’s family arranged for him to live in a 55-plus mobile home park in the heart of Thousand Oaks. Stauffer said the arrangement worked because of the supportive network of friends who surrounded Taylor.community,” Stauffer said. “He finished out his life the way he wanted to. We can’t thank the community enough.”

A true son of Thousand Oaks

In many ways, Taylor was the unof­ficial mayor of Thousand Oaks and he held the skeleton key.

One of four children born to a physi­cian and a homemaker, Taylor moved to Sidlee Street when he was 8 years old. The outpouring of grief over his death has come from nearly every segment of the Conejo Valley.

Taylor worked as a campus super­visor at Westlake High School and an honorary security guard at The Oaks mall. He was an unofficial member of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the Ventura County Fire Department.

He was a member of the Elks Lodge, the unofficial manager of Jamie’s Hair Design and Day Spa and a football coach for both Thousand Oaks and Westlake high schools.

He offered public comments at Conejo Valley school board meetings, frequently attended Thousand Oaks City Council meetings, and lent a helping hand at community events from the Rotary street fair to the chili cook-off. He frequently ate for free at local restau­rants like Thousand Oaks Fish & Chips. Shortly before his death, he was named grand marshal of the resurrected Conejo Valley parade.

Taylor’s family chose the mobile home park on T.O. Boulevard so Taylor could be close to lifelong friends like James Lipsett, an avid musician and the proprietor of Jamie’s Hair Design, who has known Taylor since his days on Sidlee Street. Taylor dropped by the salon, where his nameplate lists him as manager, almost daily.

Taylor’s enthusiasm set him apart. When Lipsett’s band would play a show, Taylor would grab a tambourine and join the band onstage.

“Although handicapped, we all can learn from Brett Taylor,” Lipsett said. “He was a lovely person.”

Mollie Alkazian started working at Jamie’s salon as a teen. Once she turned 18 and Taylor learned she could drive, the two became inseparable. One year, Alkazian dressed as Taylor for Hal­loween.

“He touched so many people. I just wonder how he had time for all of that,” she said. “Him not being here is such an extreme loss.”

Special needs, special abilities

Taylor had the mental age of an 8-year-old, according to Stauffer, but he also had an encyclopedic knowledge of car racing, professional wrestling and fire apparatus. He never drove but he had a photographic memory for directions.

“If you ever gave him your phone number, he’d remember it,” Stauffer said.

Regardless of where he was in the county, Taylor knew which fire station covered that area. He also had near-sa­vant abilities when it came to fire and police shift calendars.

“You could give him any date and any station and he could tell you who would be on shift that day,” said VCSO Sgt. Rob Brady.

Taylor coached Brady on the TOHS football team. The pair reconnected when Brady joined the sheriff’s depart­ment, and Taylor became a frequent visitor at Sunday family dinners and holiday celebrations.

Taylor taught Brady’s young daugh­ter how to slow dance and would fre­quently fall asleep cuddling Brady’s Yorkie.

“He was just a love to have around,” Brady said. “He just wanted to be part of something.”

Retired VCFD Battalion Chief Jerry van der Meulen said Taylor brought out “the good in humanity” as people readily cared for and helped him.

“He could pretty much go anywhere. It might take him two or three phone calls,” van der Meulen said.

Van der Meulen said he was one person in a long line of firefighters who “took their turn” caring for Taylor.

When Taylor’s mother died in 2013, van der Meulen offered to keep Brett company while the family handled arrangements. Taylor asked to go to Sidlee Street so he could tell his former neighbors of his mother’s passing.

“Shortly thereafter, Brett told me, ‘Yup, my mom put you in charge of me,’” van der Meulen said. “If I ever got irritated with him, he’d throw out, ‘Yup, my mom put you in charge of me.’”

Silos

Though popular, Taylor kept his friends segregated in silos, Stauffer said, “so he got five birthday parties.”

Now that his friends are mixing after his death, they are comparing notes and many are learning of Taylor’s “gene for embellishment.”

“If Brett told you he was born in the back of a ’57 Chevy, don’t believe it,” Stauffer said.

The family is working with first responders to plan a memorial service, Stauffer said. The Taylor family is very private, but they are allowing for a large event.

“Brett would want it that way,” Stauffer said.

Even in death, Ventura County’s first responders are still watching over Brett Taylor.

When his body was moved from the medical examiner’s office to Pierce Brothers cemetery, he was escorted by a fire truck and a sheriff’s squad car.

“He would have been thrilled to know that happened,” Paris said.