By Katrice L. Mines, Senior Editor
Even as a teen, Bill Taggart was extremely ambitious and exhibited humility beyond his age. “At an early age, I noticed he didn’t enjoy the typical activities of most of his peers,” says his mother Marian Taggart. “He enjoyed spending his time reading, drawing and writing.”
That marked ability to focus and hone in on his mental strength served Bill well in his life pursuits as he would distinguish himself across many sectors as an executive up until his untimely death in June of this year. Bill — the former CEO of Atlanta Life — was two months into the role of interim president of Morehouse College after serving as executive-in-residence and chief operating officer since 2015.With more than 30 years of experience with Fortune 500 companies, higher education, boutique firms and federal government agencies, he distinguished himself as a result-driven leader in both public and private sectors. At Morehouse, he led and transformed the institutional development, technology, campus operations, and human resources functions of the college while also serving as the external relations liaison to the Atlanta business and civic community, corporate America and global philanthropic organizations.
So often referred to as a “great guy,” the brightness of his countenance and inviting warm smile were impossible to resist, his partner Wonya Lucas shares. “If you were engaged in conversation with him, you experienced his keen mind — capable of sharing detailed statistics or just sharing a little known historical reference or fact. Not only did he have depth, but breadth as well. He could speak on almost any subject in a meaningful way. He never met a stranger, and was always curious to know and learn about you. He was fun with an incredible sense of humor and a quick wit. He had a tremendous presence not just because he was 6’5”, but because he was always ‘all in’ whether in a private conversation or a large crowd.”
The Atlanta native had also served as CEO of Atlanta Life Financial Group where he led the transformation of the 110-year-old firm that resulted in profits increasing over 70 percent, while doubling the firm’s total equity and reinstituting the corporate dividend to shareholders. He had also served as COO for the Office of Federal Student Aid, appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. During his tenure, Taggart successfully led FSA through the most significant period of growth in its history. He grew federal aid to 15 million college students from $96 to $150 billion dollars annually.
His passion for community was obvious in his undertakings toward the betterment of the Westside. Spending time with his grandparents in the English Avenue community, he learned about what was important in life. In the shadow of the AU Center, Bill understood the importance of having a great education, and the impact it could have on one’s economic mobility. “Listening to his grandfather’s experiences working at Trust Company Bank, he learned how to make the best of your career based on the foundation of a strong work ethic,” Lucas says. “He saw a vibrant community which was close knit and able to leverage education, job opportunities, the entrepreneurial spirit and community support to better their economic and social circumstances. So, the Westside’s current conditions were troubling to him, and he wanted to ensure that the residents, particularly the long-time residents, had the ability to live in a safe, vibrant and economically sustainable community. From working at Morehouse to serving on the Westside Future Fund to being Chair of the Atlanta Business League, helping the African-American community prosper was his passion.”
Another great love, for the Howard University and Harvard Business School Alumnus, was family. While the father of one daughter, Elizabeth, could be found on any given weekend with Lucas attending a community fundraiser, Old School R&B concert or Falcons game, Lucas says their best times were spent with family. “He loved his Sunday dinner enjoying his mom’s cooking, and then ending the day watching a sports event, documentary or movie at home. He loved taking Elizabeth to the movies where he would often fall asleep but pretend to know the details of the movie afterward! He loved hosting his extended family members during a holiday or watching sports in his home theatre with his cousins.” The Atlanta business and civic community lost a giant in Bill who was avidly involved in various business and civic organizations including Atlanta Business League, 100 Black Men of America, The Carter Center, Woodruff Arts Center and Children Healthcare of Atlanta and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated. “Bill was the most genuine and loving person,” Marian says. “His grandfather played an intricate part of his early development of his goal to become a successful business executive. Bill’s compassion drove him to do just that.