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Norm Taylor was a member of the Secret Service for 20 years.
By Erica Cusumano | STAFF
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Springfield man upholds tradition of excellence
By Kathleen Ostrander

The motto of the Secret Service is "Worthy of Trust and Confidence."

The rash of "tell-all" books shows some agents and former agents don't take the motto too seriously. But Norm Taylor of Springfield took the motto seriously when he was with the Secret Service - so seriously, in fact, a lot of people don't realize Norm Taylor, who is a Realtor now, saw history in action for 20 years while he was an agent.

"I've had people call me, and I wouldn't give them anything. You start bringing up things a protectee does, then they start losing their confidence in the service. They have to be able to absolutely trust you," Taylor said.

From high school, Taylor went into the Marines, and when he got out, he attended college, worked for the Internal Revenue Service Intelligence Division from 1966 until 1968, when he joined the Secret Service.

Agents were rotated from investigation duties to protection duties wherever they were needed, he explained. His first week in office found him in Independence, Mo., on protection detail for Bess Truman.

"She had a housekeeper that did everything. We basically sat in the backyard," he said.

Presidents, their spouses and their children, Cabinet officials and ambassadors are among those entitled to Secret Service protection. Some of those are entitled to a protection detail, as well as their spouses and children, after they leave office.

Taylor, who retired from the service in 1988, said rules for how long a protection detail continues when someone leaves office have changed, but when he was in the service, protection continued for quite some time after a politician's tenure in office was completed.

While the Bess Truman detail might have been a little ho-hum, assisting the protective detail for President Ford in 1975 was anything but mundane.

"That had to be the tensest situation I was ever in," he said. "There had been an incident involving Ford about two weeks earlier in Sacramento ... and this was two weeks later in San Francisco. I was standing across the street from where Ford was, talking to a police officer.

"I remember this clearly; I said something to the officer about how hot the bulletproof vests must be. It was September, but it was hot, and we weren't issued bulletproof vests at that time. I had no sooner gotten the words out of my mouth when a bullet whizzed between the two of us," he said.

Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old woman, had decided that day to make a political statement by taking a shot at the president. "Squeaky Fromme was before that, and she didn't even have a round chambered. Moore got off a shot," he said.

While he was assigned to the D.C. office, Taylor worked on protective details for Secretary of the Treasury John Connally Jr.; George Shultz, who was Nixon's secretary of labor from 1969-70, David M. Kennedy, who was an ambassador at large; and Henry Kissinger

Taylor, who still keeps in touch with Shultz, said he did the most traveling with Kennedy and Connally, although he was with Kissinger when he was carrying on clandestine talks trying to re-establish ties with China.

"The only Christmas I ever missed at home was when I was on the detail watching Tricia Nixon and her husband Eddie's apartment in Boston. They were actually in Washington, D.C., but we still had to watch their apartment. You can do a lot with cameras, but there are things where you really have to have eyes on," he said.

His protective details took him to Mexico, Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. "You would be better off asking me what countries haven't I gone to," he said. "That would be a shorter list. But my wife says I make the best travel agent because of that," he said with a laugh.

"I worked with a Chinese police officer when we were in China. All of the police we worked with were very courteous and professional. They would take us to the best places to eat. We would be the only ones who spoke English, and I was never exactly sure what we were eating, but it was delicious.

"I have to say the best police officer I ever worked with turned out to be with the KGB in Russia. We were on George Shultz's protective detail, and they were great. They didn't want anything to happen to us or the protectee," he said.

The person he liked the most when he was doing protective detail work was Ronald Reagan. He was assigned to his detail for a year, from 1975 until 1976. "I liked him a lot. He was very down to Earth, and we spent a lot of time at the ranch in Santa Barbara," he said.

Reagan and his friends rode a lot on the more than 600-acre ranch, and the Secret Service rode, too. "We rented horses, and I used to ride a chestnut filly," Taylor said. "The press would stay on the hill and take pictures with telephoto lenses. There are lots of pictures of me in the background on a horse," he said.

Taylor didn't collect memorabilia from his years of service, but he did keep a letter from Reagan that was sent to him in response to a gag memo Taylor had written in December 1975 to the head of the protective detail.

It was a spoof report detailing a breach of security at the ranch. It said a white male in a red convertible powered by reindeer had entered the ranch proper and insisted on delivering "gaily colored parcels" down the chimney. Taylor had left it for the head of the protective detail and hadn't heard anything about it from the Reagans.

But the next year, in October when he was no longer on the Reagan detail, he received a note from Ronald Reagan saying he missed his Secret Service detail. So much so, the note says, that he and Nancy had gotten in the back seat of their car waiting for the driver that never arrived, and no one wearing a gun delivered the morning paper anymore.

It concluded by thanking him for everything he had done for the Reagans. Taylor said the Secret Service may have delivered the paper for the Reagans, but that was because it was delivered outside the front gate and someone needed to bring it in.

"The protectees know we aren't staff, and they didn't treat us like staff," he said.

When Reagan was shot in 1981, it sent shock waves through the ranks of former and present Secret Service officers. "You hear something like that, you get a terrible, sick feeling in your gut. He was supposed to have been here (in Springfield) the Monday after that, and we were doing advance work here."

While there is talk when a candidate is under Secret Service protection that their actions, like walking into a crowd, are bad for security, Taylor said the agents understand that's a part of the life of a candidate.

"They need to be out there being seen and pressing the flesh," he said. "That's the nature of campaigning, and we really do understand that."

Although there were exciting moments on the job, there was a lot of down time, too, Taylor said.

He said those interested in a career in the Secret Service should have law enforcement experience, and military experience is useful, too.

"Do I miss it? No, not really. I haven't even been back to the office to visit since I retired," Taylor said.

And then he smiled, "but I wouldn't change anything I did or the way I did it for anything in the world. It was a great experience." 

 

Story published Friday, January 8, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 1 )

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