‘Gratitude softens grief’: Jennie Taylor shares how her husband’s legacy of service will live on at BYU, U of U

PROVO, Utah — Standing in the Reflection Room in Brigham Young University's Wilkinson Center, Jennie Taylor's bright red hair seemed to glow, despite the muted light from overcast skies coming through the windows. As a crowd gathered, she warmly welcomed everyone — some wearing military uniforms and others in civilian attire — hugging and greeting them with a smile, despite carrying a crying child on one hip.

Just nine months before, in August 2018, Jennie Taylor had stood in that same spot with her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, while he was home on leave from his fourth combat tour in the Middle East. After touring through campus and reminiscing about their early years as a couple at the university, the two stood together at the south side of the newly remodeled Reflection Room and gazed at the names of fallen servicemen embossed on the memorial wall honoring students and alumni who lost their lives in service to their country.

Maj. Brent Taylor’s name was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center during a ceremony on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Taylor was killed in Afghanistan in 2018.
Maj. Brent Taylor’s name was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center during a ceremony on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Taylor was killed in Afghanistan in 2018. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

As a member of the Utah National Guard, Brent Taylor understood the many sacrifices those whose names appeared before him had made. What he didn't know was that less than a year later, his name would appear beside them.

"I have a picture on my phone. … I took a picture of him in front of this wall, having no way of ever knowing or imagining his name would be added to this wall," Jennie Taylor told the Church News at the May 23 private ceremony where her husband's name was unveiled, joining the four others listed under the inscription "War on Terror."

"But this is where we began. … This is where everything began, and I can't help but think as cheesy as it is: 'enter to learn, go forth to serve.'"

A legacy of service

In many ways, that simple BYU motto encompasses the life and legacy of Brent Taylor and his family. When Jennie and Brent Taylor first met as young students on campus more than 15 years ago, they were young, ambitious and wanted to learn and study, she recalled. But their time at BYU instilled in them the desire to go forth and do something greater.

"This is our roots," Jennie Taylor said explaining that many of their family firsts took place on or near the campus. "It's where Brent and I began our family."

Jennie Taylor stands with her children following a ceremony where the name of her late husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Taylor was killed in Afghanistan in 2018.
Jennie Taylor stands with her children following a ceremony where the name of her late husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Taylor was killed in Afghanistan in 2018. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

To have Brent's name honored at BYU — where together they fostered a lifelong desire to live by faith in service of their community, their country, and their freedoms — "means everything," Jennie Taylor said.

Attendees at the private ceremony included the Taylors' seven children and extended family as well as military officials and university and community leaders.

"Brent was a good friend," said Lt. Gov Spencer Cox, "and an incredible public servant."

During the final months of his second combat tour in Afghanistan, Taylor was killed during a "ruck" march — a load-carrying march — while working with joint forces in Afghanistan on Nov. 3, 2018. Prior to his Afghanistan deployment in January 2018, he had been reelected for a second term as mayor of North Ogden, Utah, in the fall of 2017 and was a well-known, beloved community leader.

One of Taylor's passions was politics and helping others to understand the importance of voting as a way of maintaining and protecting freedom, Cox said. "And Jennie feels inspired, I think, that it is her mission to carry on that legacy," he said.

Jennie Taylor sits with her children during a ceremony where the name of her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Taylor was killed in Afghanistan in 2018.
Jennie Taylor sits with her children during a ceremony where the name of her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Taylor was killed in Afghanistan in 2018. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

Part of that legacy, as Jennie Taylor announced during the May 23 ceremony, will be carried on through the creation of new scholarships in her husband's name.

The Major Brent Taylor Legacy Foundation will provide one scholarship for undergraduate work at BYU in political science and two scholarships at the University of Utah — one at each the masters and doctoral levels — aimed at helping the future generations of leaders. The scholarships mirror the path that Taylor took in his own studies, including a Ph.D. from the University of Utah awarded to him posthumously earlier this month.

"We really feel as a family that Brent's greatest legacy was in leadership — leadership as a father, leadership as a soldier, leadership as a mayor, and leadership as a friend, a brother," Jennie Taylor said.

After announcing the scholarships, she expressed her hope that future beneficiaries would take the time to learn about her husband and find inspiration through his story and legacy.

Finding strength through faith and community

Reflecting on life changes since losing her husband more than six months ago, Jennie Taylor recently wrote a blog for ChurchofJesusChrist.org. Sharing the shock she felt when she first learned of her husband's death, she described how the knowledge of the gospel has helped her family since that loss.

She noted that throughout their 15 years of marriage, there were times when they had been physically separated by his work, but through it all, they had "remained spiritually and emotionally united." And while their separation now will be much longer, she said she takes great comfort knowing that it is not forever.

"Our separation is still only temporary, and the family we have built together remains strong and intact, even as he and I now work together from different sides of the veil," she wrote.

Jennie Taylor talks about her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2018, during a ceremony where Taylor’s name was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019.
Jennie Taylor talks about her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2018, during a ceremony where Taylor’s name was added to the Reflection Room Memorial Wall in the Wilkinson Center on the BYU campus in Provo on Thursday, May 23, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News, Deseret News

Watching her older sister experience the loss of her husband, Kristy Pack said that for Jennie, "from the beginning, it's all been about faith."

When she was younger, Jennie Taylor experienced similar heartaches when her family lost their father.

"She's experienced loss and tragedy before and so has Brent," Pack said. "They've been through tragedy and have really conditioned themselves to rely on faith, and that's how Jennie has been her whole life. She's always been stalwart, she's always had this testimony that showed. She leads the way and she's letting (her faith) lead the way right now."

Jennie Taylor said the faith and love of others has strengthened her the most, adding that soon after losing her husband, the thought came to her that "gratitude softens grief."

"It's incredibly humbling to know that I'm not standing on my own strength," she said, emotion straining her voice. "On my own, I should be a terrible mess right now. So I can only say that I am somehow the face of everybody else's faith. I can't explain it, but I can feel it when I need to stand and speak or show up when I feel like I just can't do it. There's something much greater than me that I know comes from the prayers of other people."

She added: "I know people are praying for me and for my family, and that is a power I can feel and recognize."

Maj. Brent Taylor and Jennie Taylor along with their seven children.
Maj. Brent Taylor and Jennie Taylor along with their seven children.