With a quick smile and cheerful greeting, Rob Taylor was a familiar figure at the High Street branch of the YMCA. By 5:30 most mornings, he was at the front desk, folding and stacking dozens of white towels into neat stacks for members to pick up.
Mr. Taylor, 58, died Friday morning at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital after a short illness.
Mr. Taylor had been in a wheelchair 36 years, after becoming paralyzed from the waist down when he was hit by a drunken driver. "He never went into detail about the accident. He just never talked about it. And of course, I never knew him except in his chair," said his only child, daughter Rhoda Logan, 36, of Louisville. "But he had amazing people skills. He was always able to cheer up somebody who was not having a good day. He was a people person."
Mr. Taylor was born and raised in Keene, one of nine children, and graduated from Jessamine County High School, his daughter said.
About 10 years ago Taylor moved into the Y that has a residential component for about 25 men. He lived on the third floor, in one of the dormitory-style rooms. He decorated the walls of his room with photographs of native American Indians and their art.
Executive director Dave Elsen did not know the details of why Mr. Taylor came to the Y. But after a while, Mr. Taylor started volunteering, washing and folding the towels, cleaning up in front of the building, taking care of the flowers. "At one point we said, 'OK, we're going to hire him,' " Elsen said.
Mr. Taylor was employed as a part-time staff member. "He turned washing towels into something so much bigger," Elsen said. "Through his positive outlook and attitude, he impacted everybody's life."
YMCA member Nelson French saw Mr. Taylor several times a week when he came to work out. "Rob could have been bitter and sullen because of his accident, but his single characteristic was his indomitable spirit," French said.
This past summer, he tended the Y's rooftop garden, watering the vegetables and herbs, harvesting the produce.
During the YMCA's summer camp for kids, Mr. Taylor wore a camp T-shirt every day. "He rolled down the halls and gave the kids a big high five. They would see him coming, and shout, 'Rob. Rob,'" said business manager Ashley Baggett.
"He was always welcoming," said Debbi Dean, wellness director.
The Y presented Mr. Taylor with its 2011 Spirit Award earlier this year. The Spirit Award is given to a YMCA part-time staff member who has been with the organization for at least five years and goes "above and beyond in service to the Y and its members."
Mr. Taylor took part in foot races in the wheelchair division, winning several first places, Elsen said.
He dealt with a variety of health issues related to his accident, but Elsen said, "I never heard a complaint or cross word pass his lips — ever."
Property manager Doug Gray called Mr. Taylor "the mayor of High Street Y."
Elsen said Friday afternoon: "There's a hole out there in the lobby that can't be repaired right now."
Funeral arrangements are pending.