NEW YORK (AP) — Terry R. Taylor, who in two trailblazing decades as the first female sports editor of The Associated Press transformed the news agency’s emphasis into multilayered coverage of rigorous reporting, entertaining enterprise and edgy analysis, has died. She was 71.
Taylor died Tuesday at her home in Paoli, Pennsylvania, according to her husband, Tony Rentschler. She was diagnosed in 2013 with breast cancer that metastasized three years later. She stopped chemotherapy treatment last December when the side effects became intolerable, he said.
“Terry was truly a trailblazer in journalism, paving the way for so many women to ascend into leadership, both in sports departments and throughout the industry,” said Julie Pace, senior vice president and executive editor of the AP. “Her legacy at AP has been an enduring one, and that will no doubt continue.”
Taylor ran the AP sports department from 1992 until 2013 and believed she was on duty close to 24 hours a day. She arrived in the office around 10 a.m. most weekdays, usually staying until 7 or 8 p.m. and then remained constantly on the phone until West Coast night games ended — or even all night when the America’s Cup sailing took place in Australia. She led the AP’s coverage of 14 Olympics.
“There were, of course, doubters when I appointed her as AP’s first female sports editor, but she soon silenced them, by force of talent and personality,” Louis D. Boccardi, the AP’s president and CEO from 1985 to 2003, said Wednesday. “Beyond doubt, a Hall of Famer.”
She was demanding with exacting standards, for herself and others. She had a personal shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue and reporters who arrived in the office wearing shorts were sent home to switch into more proper attire.
“You had to work alongside her to appreciate how many barriers she knocked over day after day, and she did it with joy and plenty of humor, but nobody had sharper elbows,” said Jim Litke, an AP reporter from 1978 to 2022 and a national sports columnist starting in 1989. “Whether it was wrangling a generator from a hotel manager in San Francisco the night an earthquake rocked the World Series, or walking into the chairman’s office at Augusta National to deliver her point in person, Terry never stopped trying to make every story she touched better. She dared us to follow her lead, to push and pull at every loose thread, and made all of us better reporters and even better people in the bargain.”
Taylor overhauled beats to make their focus more news oriented and go beyond the scores and on-field action.
“Terry was a history-making and inspirational leader who maintained a laser focus on the news,” said Tom Curley, the AP’s president and CEO from 2003-12. “She had a commanding grasp of the sports world and what the story was. She set high expectations for how AP reporters should cover it. She was a mentor to many and the rare person who made all our days so much better.”
At times, she left her reporters exasperated with her insistence there was one perfect lead sentence that must be found.
“She was demanding as all good leaders are, but it was her friendship and guidance I’ll always cherish most,” said Tim Dahlberg, an AP reporter from 1979 to 2022, the last 19 years as a sports columnist.
If anyone took offense to her calling them at home in the middle of the night, she told them they should consider employment that didn’t require nights and weekends.
“The message ‘pls call’ jolted this young reporter anytime it flashed on my screen,” said Jenna Fryer, the AP’s auto racing writer since 2006. “What story did I get wrong? Did someone break something I didn’t have?”
Taylor shaped coverage of Michael Jordan and Joe Montana, Bear Bryant and Pete Rose, of success and scandal. She was the AP’s point person with member sports editors throughout the U.S.
“She was incredible at her job, but she cared about the people, not just the job,” said Dave Smith, the top sports editor at The Boston Globe from 1970-78 and The Dallas Morning News from 1981 to 2004. “I tried to hire her several times — unsuccessfully.”
Terry Rosalind Taylor was born on Oct. 4, 1952, the daughter of Ann and Thomas Taylor. She grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Chester reading Ray Didinger in the Delaware County Daily Times, which sparked her desire to become a sports writer. She was a graduate of Temple University and worked at The Charlotte News in North Carolina before joining the AP’s Philadelphia bureau in 1977. Taylor transferred to the New York sports department four years later.
“The AP used to send around these things called ‘dream sheets’ once a year to tell them how you liked your job and what it is you would like to do in your future with the AP,” she remembered in a 2014 interview with The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. “So kind of as a joke, I said I would like to work in New York sports after only being in Philly for about a year. I never thought anyone would ever look at this. A couple months later, Wick Temple asked if I wanted to come to sports in New York. I was floored.”
Taylor covered figure skating at the 1984 Winter Olympics and in 1985 was appointed assistant sports editor in charge of enterprise coverage. She was promoted to deputy sports editor in 1987 and directed coverage of the 1988 Winter and Summer Olympics.
“Red Smith used to call the AP from Nantucket on summer mornings to get West Coast baseball scores,” Taylor recalled in 2018 to John Leicester, a Paris-based AP reporter. “I happened to pick up the phone one day: ‘Hello. This is Red Smith. Can somebody read me last night’s West Coast scores? My blasted paper didn’t get them in.’”
Taylor left the AP from December 1990 to September 1991 to become assistant sports editor of The New York Times. She returned to the AP as assistant chief of bureau in New York, supervised coverage of the 1992 Olympics and took over as sports editor in October 1992, two days after her 40th birthday, when Darrell Christian was promoted from sports editor to managing editor.
“People who knew Terry and I often said we were one and the same and maybe we were,” Christian said. “She won over the old school critics of women in sports while inspiring the younger generations.”
Taylor announced in August 2013 she was retiring that November and moving to Pennsylvania, and she had surgery that fall to remove a malignant breast tumor. She recovered and was preparing to work for the International Olympic Committee at the 2016 Olympics when she learned the cancer had returned and spread.
Taylor maintained an active schedule in Philadelphia and New York during retirement. She was given the 2018 Red Smith Award by the Associated Press Sports Editors for outstanding contributions to sports journalism.
Taylor was a 2017 alumni hall of fame honoree of Temple’s Klein College of Media and Communication. She received the Association for Women in Sports Media’s 2016 Mary Garber Pioneer Award.
“Terry shaped AP Sports into the industry leader and a reference in sports journalism,” said Ricardo Zuniga, the AP’s current sports editor and a former reporter and editor under Taylor.
For all her accomplishments, Taylor considered herself fortunate.
“I never imagined this life,” she told the Povich Center. “I just sort of fell into it because I happened to be in the right place at the right time and knew sports.”
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