D.A. Taylor’s Enduring Legacy: A Q&A with Scott Flax ‘96

 
I do not know of a youngster who has touched the lives of so many people. D.A. represents everything that is good and pure and noble about our school. The challenge for those of us left behind is to foster his great spirit.
 
Few of us will ever have the influence that this sixteen year old had on so many.
-        Mr. John Tucker, Former Headmaster, Norfolk Academy

 
Deshannon Artemis (D.A.) Taylor was a junior at Norfolk Academy when, in February 1995, he was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis.
 
Just over a month later, the student who was recognized as a semifinalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program, an athlete who excelled in three sports, and a class leader (president of the Middle School) – the epitome of a scholar-athlete – would lose his battle to the disease, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of his friends, family, and community.
 
Ask anyone who knew D.A. what they remember about this vivacious individual and, with a grin and distant look as though they can still picture him sitting in the refectory or out on the lacrosse field, they will remark on his smile and approachability.
 
In 2006, the D.A. Taylor Charitable Foundation was founded by his family and friends to keep D.A.’s spirit alive while giving back to the community he touched.  
 
Scott Flax ’96 is an attorney for Tavss Fletcher and the Co-Chair for the D.A. Taylor Charitable Foundation. Most importantly, he was also a dear friend of D.A. Taylor. We sat down with Scott on the eve of the 13th annual D.A. Taylor Middle School Basketball Challenge, to understand the importance of this event, and to find out more about his friend who impacted – and continues to influence – hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

When did you first meet D.A. Taylor? D.A. first came to Norfolk Academy in third grade. He had Mrs. Warn, where I was in the other third grade class. I don’t have a specific memory of the first time I met him, but everyone knew D.A.; he was the person that everyone knew. 

Describe your favorite memory of D.A.: My favorite memory of D.A. is really his smile. It was infectious - a slow smile that grew bigger and bigger until it completely embraced you.
 
We were reading Great Gatsby the year he passed away and the quote about Gatsby’s smile always was a perfect fit for D.A.:

"It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced - or seemed to face - the whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.”
 
I have memories of D.A. on the football field, or wearing his big (Oakland) Raiders jacket. I remember him as a camp counselor and how much the kids loved him. He was the class clown that got away with it. The students loved him, the faculty adored him. 

How was D.A. able to make NA a better place for students and faculty? He was a scholar, a jock, and a nerd in one package. He was kind to the first graders as well as every other student. If you read Mr. Savage’s article in The Savage Chronicles it will help explain how he made NA a better place. D.A. was a bridge builder, whether between student to student, or student to faculty. He had a gravitational pull that just brought everyone closer. 

What was the environment at NA like when he fell ill? It quickly became clear that this (disease) was something where either you get better or you die. A lot of us quickly developed a routine where visiting him at the hospital after practice became part of daily life. It was school, practice, hospital, home, repeat. Every day. It was not just his classmates who felt his absence…it was everyone. 

When he died, the whole school felt the impact. My mom (Gail Flax) taught in the Lower School at the time, and she recalls the first and second graders being sad. It was amazing how many lives he touched, how everyone could be friends with him. 

You were very young - a junior - when he passed away. How did his death affect you then and how does it affect you to this day? It truly changed my entire outlook on life. The year he died, we did the Credo and the Trilogy in Ms. Hobbs' class. A tough project for any junior, but especially tough that year. We had already lost three other classmates, Lee Wynne, Michel Pessar, and Matt Austin. We had all experienced loss as a class. D.A. was sick for such a long time and we were able to understand and process it. 

As an aside, I am sure many students walk by that beautiful fountain in front of the school, but do they see those names on them? All from the class of ‘96. The goal of the Credo and Trilogy is to, “…examine your beliefs and values in light of the philosophies of others whose words we ponder.” My belief and values were forever altered.  

How did the idea to form a foundation in honor of D.A. originate? It was really the brainchild of (D.A.’s mother) Gale Taylor and (Co-Chair of the D.A. Taylor Charitable Foundation) Drew McKnight ‘96. They wanted to do something that would honor him and keep his memory alive. I know for me, I still think about D.A. on a regular basis. I would be confident to say most of his classmates do as well. 

Why did you decide on a basketball challenge in order to raise funds for the foundation? D.A. touched everyone in such a unique way. Everyone who knew him would have their own special memory. I believe we all thought we were his close friend because his heart was so big that he made room for everyone. When (Assistant Athletic Director) Chad Byler learned that we had started the foundation, he wanted to help. He reached out to me with the idea of doing a basketball challenge, and I thought it was great. The thought behind the D.A. Taylor Middle School Basketball Challenge is that it is not about winning and losing. It is about sportsmanship. That is how D.A. would have wanted it; it is about creating a bond and a moment. 

How much has the event raised for the foundation? The event itself has raised over $83,000 for the foundation. Collectively, we have raised a little over $455,000 over the years through all of the events. 

This is your 13th annual D.A. Taylor Middle School Basketball Challenge. Describe a memorable moment you witnessed during one of those tournaments that still stands out today
: My favorite moment actually happens every year. It is watching the smile on Gale and Stan Taylor’s faces. Gale has a similar smile to D.A., and to be able to have them there is special. 

Another great memory of the Challenge is what happens after the final whistle blows. When I am out and about around town and I see one of the t-shirts that we give away with the name ‘Taylor’ on the back. We change the number every year to match the year of the challenge. So, when I see a ‘Taylor 12’, or ‘Taylor 15’, it means that D.A. is still around. 

What good has come out of the foundation and how has it impacted the community? The scholarships. They are able to provide financial aid to four students a year. Last year, the fund awarded $15,000 to four students. One student at William and Mary and three students attending UVA. 

Are there any other events (outside of the foundation) that you/your former classmates do to honor D.A.? We used to have an auction in New York, a golf tournament at Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach, and concerts in San Francisco. We do not have them as often anymore. The basketball challenge is the longest-running event. 

What is something you would want people who never had the opportunity to meet him to know? He was kind. He was smart, so smart. He was a force to reckon with in any sport. He was funny and silly. He was whoever coach wanted to coach, whoever teacher wanted to teach. He was a friend. He was just that special. If you can get Coach (Tom) Duquette to talk about someone for an hour, you know they are special.

What we are doing with this foundation, he would have done for all of us. 

Tell us, what is D.A.’s legacy? D.A.’s gift to us was his heart and smile. It is in his memory that we do this scholarship.

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Rest assured, D.A.’s memory lives on. It lives within his family and friends; his former classmates; the scholarship recipients; and entire generations of NA students – some who knew him, some who were born well after he passed away. All will know him, because D.A. embodied the true spirit of what it means to be a Bulldog.
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