Lesley Taplin Remembered

BY KRISTINE McKENNA

Lesley

Taplin, who was killed in an automobile accident April 13, was a vital

presence in so many different worlds that it's difficult to know how to

begin writing about her life. A world that came to have crucial meaning

for her over the past decade, however, was the community in downtown

Los Angeles. Lesley had a patrician beauty and regal bearing that

seemed tailor made for the pages of Town & Country, but she was

much too deep and soulful for that scene. Lesley was drawn to

situations where she was needed, where she could contribute and

possibly change things for the better, so downtown L.A. became her home

away from home.

Photo: Don Garza/Flickr
(Note: An editing error led to an earlier incorrect
photo credit. Our apologies to Don Garza.)

Russ Brown, president of the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council,

worked with Lesley for years, and recalls just one of her undertakings.

"In 2002, Lesley almost single-handedly started the DLANC Education

Committee," Brown says. "One of her first projects was to create a

booth at Project Homeless Connect to do a used-book giveaway. Project

Homeless Connect is a one-day program of services and connections

offered to those in need and it serves a few thousand people in a

six-hour period. We had no idea how the book giveaway would be

received, but Lesley pushed to make it happen because she loved

education and books, and wanted to bring those things to the community.

Folks said the books would go to waste, be thrown away or sold for

drugs, but Lesley just pushed forward. 'If I'm wrong, then at least we

tried,' she said, 'but if I'm right, they can read and learn, and we

can help things change, even if just a little.'

"Lesley organized donations of 50 cases of books, and spent weeks

collecting, moving and sorting them. Because we had a two-book limit at

the giveaway, many folks took a long time selecting their books, and in

the process, they told us the stories of their lives. They told us what

they hoped to change, and they asked for legal books, foundational

tools to change their lives, and especially dictionaries. They said

that when they applied for jobs there were often words on the job

applications they didn't know, so English and Spanish dictionaries, for

adults and children, became a big part of the giveaways. Lesley also

played an important role in the formation of the Skid Row Photography

Club, Skid Row Brigade, Skid Row 3 on 3 Basketball and neighborhood

clean-ups."

Skid Row was worlds away from the life Lesley was born into. She was

the eldest of two daughters, born in Berkeley, to Tyrell T. Gilb, a

successful inventor and builder, and Dr. Corinne Lathrop Gilb, who was

an academic. Lesley came of age in Northern California when the

counterculture was at the height of its powers, and this suited her

adventurous streak, which surfaced early in life. By the time she was

18 her circle of friends was composed of artists and political

radicals, and she spent her time participating in protests, appearing

in experimental films -- and running wild.

She had a voracious intellect that compelled her to seek out deeper

realities, however, so she pulled up stakes and moved to Los Angeles in

the mid-'70s with no particular plan in mind. Lesley was exhilarated by

the unknown. She worked a series of odd jobs and then, in the early

'80s, married and gave birth to a son, then a daughter. By the late

'80s her marriage had unraveled and she went back to work, first at the

G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, which was followed by jobs at the late Carl

Sagan's Cosmos Studios, and as a substitute teacher. Lesley was a

restless person, perpetually in motion, and she and her children moved

several times, to various homes in L.A. and the Bay area during those

years.

After her children left home - her daughter, Blythe Taplin, is a

lawyer in New Orleans, and her son, Nicholas Taplin is a Los

Angeles-based recording engineer - she found herself at a crossroads,

wondering what to do next. One afternoon she found herself downtown and

the next chapter of her life began. She explained that the reason she

spent so much time downtown was because she liked the people she met

there, and enjoyed spending time with them. Lesley had the ability to

celebrate what was unique about everyone she encountered, and never

judged anyone, so she had the most wide-ranging circle of friends

imaginable. One of her friends, Michael Blaze, tells the following

story.

"About a year ago I laid in a hospital bed at USC County Hospital,

forty pounds thinner, having died and come back several times as I am

told. I was in a comatose state for a while, and I regained

consciousness to this tall, blond, angelic form. As time went by I

realized I hadn't died, and that it was my friend Lesley Taplin holding

my hand, looking down, and literally willing me back to life. I kept

wondering, What was it that brought this worldly, accomplished,

dignified woman to the bedside of a man that lives in Skid Row? I

couldn't understand or see what she saw when she looked at me. But, if

she could believe my life was valuable, then I could begin to fight

back and live. Though I had known her well for several years, that was

the first time I truly came to know the inner beauty and unconditional

love of the late Lesley Taplin. May she rest in peace."

There will be a memorial for Lesley Taplin on Thursday, April 30th,

at 6:30 P.M. , in downtown Los Angeles, at Vibiana (formerly St.

Vibiana's) at 210 S. Main Street.


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