Gary Taylor served in the military and worked as a police officer after graduating from Burlington High School in 1973. He didn’t think a college degree was all that important. Taylor grew up in a blue collar family with a father who believed that if you didn’t work with your hands, it didn’t count as work.
But then one day in the mid-‘80s, Taylor’s police chief told the department that no one would be promoted beyond the rank of sergeant without a college degree, so Taylor and a group of peers decided to enroll at CCV. He knew about the College’s Prior Learning Assessment program, which allows students to earn credits for college-level learning they’ve acquired through work, military, or other life experience. For Taylor, this meant that his years in law enforcement and in the service would translate to 68 credits. After finishing his associate degree in criminal justice, he went on to earn promotions, attend the FBI Academy in Virginia, and complete his bachelor’s degree at Johnson State College (JSC). In 2005, Taylor became chief of police for the City of St. Albans, and today, he is head of both the police and fire departments and serves as the city’s public safety director.
Taylor is the first to acknowledge that a college degree helped him advance his career. Through CCV and JSC, he also formed close bonds with his peers, many of whom he’s friends with to this day. But he says that higher education had even deeper impacts on his life and his work. “It validated who I was and what I knew, and my qualifications…so that was a huge boost to my self-esteem,” he shared. “I am much more open-minded, I have a much broader perspective as a result of higher education.”
That perspective has shaped the way he thinks of his role as a municipal leader. “Anybody that works for me would tell you, and the people I work for would tell you, that I’m very progressive,” he said. “I tell people this: the officers who work for me…they’re like my kids. I feel like I’m the father of a large, dysfunctional family…I make it my job to make sure they have the best equipment, that we have the best policies and procedures, and that we have the best plans. I think that’s all part of being progressive.”
At this point, Taylor has earned his place as one of the most senior police chiefs in the state. He says he’s learned a lot about leadership over the years. “I feel like when I have something to say I have credibility and integrity, and I’m not just the guy who can tell you how to do it, I’ve been there and done it,” he says. “Leadership is a funny thing. It’s not how smart you are or how many degrees you have. It’s about your credibility.” According to Taylor, leadership is also about confidence and commitment. “I think I make a difference every day, even now, or else I wouldn’t go to work…I think we all have a responsibility to do better than the people that we follow…the legacy I want to leave in St. Albans is not that I was a great guy, but that I built an organization that has integrity and has a good foundation.”
Taylor says of the more than 50 employees of the police and fire departments, “I don’t know if there’s anybody who works for me who doesn’t have a college degree.” He says of the next generation coming into the field, “we need young people who are educated and informed.” And he encourages students to start at CCV. “I think CCV is tomorrow’s answer…It’s just good economic sense to me. Go get your associate degree from CCV, then go where you want to go.”
Registration for CCV’s spring and summer 2019 semesters is now open. Visit ccv.edu/spring to apply today.