For this story, we’re going to go back in time — way back.

It’s January 1996, and this world was vastly different. So was Kearny. And so was the Kearny Police Department. One of the worst blizzards in Jersey history blanketed the region that month and if you recall, Kearny was seriously paralyzed by the storm.

The Kearny Police Department was led by Chief Thomas Wilgus Sr. and his deputy, who would later become the chief for a brief period after, was the late-great Thomas “Tim” Sharples. (After Sharples, John P. Dowie would complete the two-year period with three police chiefs in, come 1998 — and he served for 19 years.)

Also that month, there was a rookie called John Taylor, who after nearly 26 years on the job, retired a few weeks ago at the rank of lieutenant. He concluded what may only be described as a decorated career. At retirement, he was the commander of the Traffic Bureau, and he was so loved by the crossing guards and the parking violations officers who reported to him that nearly 50 of them gathered on Laurel Avenue on his last day on the job to bid him adieu. (More on that later.)

In-between, he served as a patrol officer, a narcotics detective and the leader of Traffic as a sergeant and later lieutenant.

Cop of the Year early on

Perhaps it should come as no surprise Taylor was on the job but a year when he was selected the Police Officer of the Year for 1997 by his peers. We wondered what happened to lead to the choice — we weren’t surprised he was selected so early on in his career — but there’s almost always an epic story behind why cops are chosen as the best of each year.

Taylor relayed the story with his epic sense of humor.

“I was just minding my own business on patrol on Kearny Avenue and I encountered a man with a machete,” Taylor recalls of the incident. “I wasn’t called to the scene but there he was. My backup was (Ret. Capt. Charles) Fergie and when he got there, we crashed through a huge front window of a store. We got him.

“And I got Cop of the Year and Fergie got seven stitches.”

Taylor says being a police officer in 2022 is nothing like it was even back in 1996-1997. Yet he always adapted to changes on all fronts.

“I always wanted to help people,” the Harrison native and Harrison High School alumnus says of his career. “And I always said, ‘If you treat the people around you right, they will treat you the very same way.’”

What a mantra to live by. But it speaks volumes of the kind of cop he was — and why dozens of civilian employees gathered to say goodbye to him when he retired.

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Farewell, boss

Carol Manley, who for the last few years has served as a parking violations officer, before that was a Kearny crossing guard. So for many, many years, she’s reported to one man and has had one boss — Lt. John Taylor.

When she got word the boss put in his papers to sail into the sunset, Manley, like all the others, was devastated since her long-time boss was going — but also elated because who isn’t excited for anyone who is not going to have to work anymore?

So she quickly jumped into action, and began to arrange a “Walk Out” for Taylor.

Almost every crossing guard and PVO was on hand to wish him well say goodbye — and frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it in my career for a retiring police officer who was not a chief. On a cold day, on their own time, one by one, they arrived and they did this for their boss.

The crew gave Taylor a parting gift. But it was the outpouring of love and respect for Taylor, starting from Manley and winding its way down to the most recent guard hired, that was awesome. And let’s just say, for Manley, this is a tough pill to swallow.

“He is just an incredible man,” Manley says of Taylor. “Whenever we needed him for anything, he always had our back.” And did he ever — never more so than in March 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic broke out, schools and the world shut down and Taylor performed a minor miracle — keeping the guards and PVOs on the payroll despite all that was ongoing.

“It was unbelievable,” Manley says. “So much was happening and he worked his butt off to make sure we were all taken care of. All he ever did was care about us, our well-being.”

And that’s the kind of man Taylor is. It was what he, himself, said when we asked him why he wanted to be a cop — to help people — and that’s what he did throughout his career.

And that reminded Manley of something else Taylor once did that didn’t so much shock her as it did remind her what kind human Taylor is.

Manley says she was chatting with a group of people about a fellow crossing guard whose kid was having a rough go of it during the pandemic and who needed to use a food pantry to get provisions for her home. The thing was, she didn’t have access to transport so there was that issue.

Taylor, nearby, overheard part of the conversation and without thinking says, “Carol, make me a list and I will go to ShopRite myself to get whatever she needs. Or if it’s easier, I will just give her the cash.”

Though he misunderstood the general premise of the chat,  there he was, ready to help the daughter of one of his guards, by going to a supermarket to buy her whatever she needed. He didn’t even know the person’s daughter, yet there he was, willing as you’ll often hear yours truly say, to be a Man for Others.

That’s the kind of guy Taylor is — and that’s how Manley wants him to be remembered.

Goodbye, my friend

His retirement, which will allow him to spend a lot more time with his wife, and college-aged daughter and son, will also be felt by his colleagues. Capt. Timothy Wagner, the department’s public information officer and internal affairs commander, reflected on his friendship and work relationship with the retiring lieutenant.

“In John’s career, he served in a diverse array of policing specialties from Vice enforcement to patrol to commanding the traffic bureau, where he ultimately retired,” Wagner says. “John was an asset in every function he performed. In his role in the Traffic Bureau, John developed a reputation as a supervisor who could manage any project and successfully accomplish it.

“From his management skills overseeing parades, construction planning, traffic enforcement grants and personnel, to his policing skills investigating serious car crashes and maintaining DWI enforcement standards, Lt. Taylor was a real credit to the KPD and will be missed.”

You’re only as good as those you surround yourself with

Taylor was already in Florida, enjoying life on the beach as it snowed here, when we spoke with him about his retirement last week, but he leaves Traffic in great hands with Sgt. David Rakowski taking over. In all, he gives credit to his family and colleagues for making life as a cop a great one.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife and children,” he says humbly. “I’ve been very fortunate to have a great career.”

That career was solidified having gotten to work with the likes of Officers Pete Jahera, Vic Girdwood, Rich Pawloswki and Patrick “Buzz” Sawyer. And, of course, the PVOs and his “30 extra wives,” as Manley calls them.

Those crossing guards.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.