A spinal-cord injury from the Korean War left Donald Taylor with only limited use of his legs and arms. But that did not stop him from reaching out to other disabled veterans.
He started an annual Cigar Night at an Italian restaurant that — over the past decade — raised more than $300,000 for the nonprofit Paralyzed Veterans Association of Florida.
Taylor died of cancer Tuesday in his Pembroke Pines home. He was 73.
Pedro DeArmas, who represents Florida for the national Paralyzed Veterans Association, worked with Taylor for more than 30 years.
He said Taylor cared about veterans, especially those forced to stay in a hospital or nursing home.
The Cigar Night event — attended by Dan Marino at Anthony’s Runway 84 in Fort Lauderdale — provides recreational programs for patients in the spinal cord injury unit at the Miami VA Medical Center.
Patients can go to luncheons, sporting events, holiday parties, and other recreational events.
The money also sends patients to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, a competition hosted by the association every year.
”He always was fighting for the veterans,” said DeArmas, who is also a disabled veteran. “He always was there for us.”
Friends and family members referred to Taylor as “Uncle Don.”
His wife said that although he had no children of his own, he was a father figure to many, from his nieces and nephews to kids in the neighborhood.
”He loved watching kids,” she said. “He loved teaching them their alphabet in silly ways.”
One of Taylor’s nephews, Kevin Killbride, said he and his siblings considered themselves to be Taylor’s children. Killbride moved to Atlanta in 1999, but he said he can’t remember a time before that when he missed Sunday dinner at Taylor’s home.
The family gathered every week, and their extended family of friends was always invited.
”He always had people at his house,” Killbride said. “It could be five or 50 on Sundays. His house was everybody’s house.”
Killbride said the lesson his uncle taught was the importance of family. But for Taylor, the definition of family was broader than most. He made sure to keep in touch with his childhood friends in Brooklyn, N.Y., after he moved to Pembroke Pines in 1973. For his 62nd birthday, 30 of them showed up for a surprise reunion.
”Every year, his birthday celebration was a big party,” Killbride said. “It was just about bringing everybody together.”
Along with his wife and nephew, Taylor is survived by his niece, Debbie Killbride, and two other nephews, Greg and Kenny Killbride.
A visitation will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. today at the Panciera-VanOrsdel Funeral Home, 100 S. Douglas Rd., Pembroke Pines.
There will be a funeral mass 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Edwards Catholic Church, 19000 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Paralyzed Veterans Association of Florida Hospital Fund, 3799 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309 or to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Pl., Memphis, TN 38105
BY KARIN DRYHURST