Tom Taylor was a man who inspired change but without drawing attention to himself.
"He had this extraordinary ability to lead from the middle," said Jenny Fortman, president of the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization, a Northeast Minneapolis group that Taylor helped found. "He was never really the president or the head of the meeting. But he somehow gathered people together and led."
He was a founding member of the Eastside Food Co-Operative and the Farmer's Market in Northeast Minneapolis. He organized underground art shows, dinners and May Day bike rallies. He advocated for local communities, family farms, environmental justice and sustainable agriculture.
"He gave you an irresistible invitation to join your own community," Fortman said, quoting another friend. It didn't hurt that Taylor had a great sense of humor and a voice warmed with a subtle southern drawl.
Taylor, an artist and chef and known to many as Chuck Fred, died March 21 of cancer. He was 57.
He was a "brilliant organizer" whose legacy was teaching others how to lead and organize, Fortman said. "Now people like me know how to do this stuff."
Taylor was born in Columbus, Ga., and moved to Minneapolis in 1973 to study printmaking and drawing at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
He soon became an activist in the growing downtown warehouse arts community in the 1980s.
"He had a lifelong compulsion to draw, paint and print," said Aldo Moroni, a local sculptor. "His works often focused on images of local punk rock history, baseball and Americana. They were very unique. The images were bright, powerful and immediate. Think violent lines, applied and smudged. ... He was an artist's artist."
In the early 1980s, Taylor helped start a series of underground art shows. "It was a show that anyone could take part in. It had a location like an alley behind a warehouse where everyone came together. We did it as political action -- outsider art, where art isn't a commodity."
Underground art shows continue today, Moroni said. "The younger generation is continuing the ideas of what Tom created."
By the early 1990s, Taylor became more involved in organizing and working with sustainable agriculture, said friend Mary Anne Welch.
"Tom was a man of the people," she said. "... He would get out there and excite people around issues and help them understand why it mattered to them."
Taylor, a member of the Green Party, twice ran for elected office -- the Minneapolis Park Board and for the Minnesota House. He didn't win, said Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon, but he was active in Gordon's campaigns. "He was a great adviser," said Gordon.
"He embraced life and looked for the pleasures and enjoyment of it while, at the same time, organizing it to make it better," Gordon said. "I think he just thought people could make a positive difference, and that's what we should do while we're here."
He is survived by his wife, Mary Conway Taylor of Minneapolis; a daughter, Virginia Taylor Wolking of Lyons, Neb.; sisters, Tracey Taylor Mulvaney of Greenville, S.C., and Edith Taylor of Rogersville, Tenn.; and one grandson.
A memorial service and fundraiser will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. April 11 at the Eagles Club, 2507 E. 25th St., Minneapolis.
Mary Lynn Smith 612-673-4788