By Alyssa Schnugg/The Oxford Eagle
OXFORD — Jason Taylor was just 6 when his father, Melvon, walked out of his life and onto the streets that would remain his home for 27 years.
Jason isn’t mad. Now a physician in Jackson, Jason understands it was mental illness that took his father from him all those years ago, robbing him of ever really knowing the man he still refers to as “Pop.”
He did see him once — about 10 years ago on television, during Christmas time.
“I was watching the TV and there he was, there was my Pop,” Justin said. “A reporter was doing a story about homeless people and was interviewing him.”
Jason went down to the shelter where the newscast was filmed, but it was too late. Melvon Taylor had already left the area and headed in a direction that once again, led him away from his family.
Melvon was found dead in his tent on July 4, at the Primitive Campground in the Clear Creek area of Sardis Lake. His tent was orderly and clean, something which struck Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy as odd.
“I knew there was more to this man than just being a homeless guy,” Kennedy said. “Everything was very clean and there were a lot of books around.”
Melvon graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1973, summa cum laude, with a degree in accounting. He was in the second wave of African-American graduates at Ole Miss after the school’s desegregation in 1962.
After graduation, he lived in Jackson with his wife and son, Jason, where he eventually opened an accounting firm.
Outwardly, Melvon’s life had all the signs that he was on his way to a stable, prosperous life. It’s certainly the seemingly successful life that those who knew him thought he wanted, deserved and earned.
“We grew up in Tallahatchie County,” said Ralph Taylor, Melvon’s younger brother, a physician in Memphis. “Our dad was a farmer who had 18 children – nine by his first wife, who died in child birth, and nine by his second wife.”
Melvon did well academically.
He was valedictorian at his high school.
“He was driven and a high achiever,” Ralph said of his brother.
And Melvon was proud — too proud to get help when his mental state started to deteriorate, and too proud to allow his illness to be a burden on his family.
At almost 30 years old, Melvon started showing symptoms of paranoia schizophrenia. He let his accounting firm fall to the wayside. His marriage also fell apart. Melvon started to lose his grip on his sanity and started to push everyone away as he fell deeper into his own mind and paranoia.
“He decided to drop out of society,” Ralph said. “He let everything go and he decided to hit the road and not look back. We weren’t sure where he was most of the time.”
Ralph and other family members would receive the occasional report about Melvon, a sighting here or there, somewhere between Memphis and Jackson.
Melvon didn’t use drugs, nor was he an alcoholic.
“Most would never even know there was anything wrong with him if they just had a normal conversation with him,” Ralph said. “But it was the internal irrational thoughts that Melvon battled every day.”
Ralph and Jason came to Oxford earlier this month after being notified of Melvon’s death. They came to collect his few belongings and perhaps get a closer look into the life Melvon had hidden from his family for so many years.
Anthony Clark of Oxford remembers taking Melvon to the campground about three months ago.
“I saw him walking along Highway 6 and I drove past him,” Clark said. “Then I could hear my grandmother’s voice telling me that God wanted us to help others and I turned around and offered him a ride. I kinda had hoped he’d say ‘no,’ but he didn’t.”
It didn’t take long for Clark to realize he was glad he listened to his grandmother’s words.
“There was something different about this guy right away,” Clark said. “He was well kept, clean shaven and articulate. He said he was headed to Clear Creek. I thought he meant the church, but then realized he meant the campground.”
Clark asked Melvon if he’d ride around with him a bit to run some errands around Oxford before taking him to the camp.
“He told me, ‘I’m homeless. I don’t have anything to do,’” Clark reminisced and chuckled at the memory.
Melvon told Clark he had spent the last several years at a campground across the lake in Sardis, but had to move. Someone suggested Clear Creek Campground to him.
Over the next several weeks, Clark and Melvon struck up a friendship. Clark would bring him books and sometimes food.
“The first time I brought him food, he started to separate the cans and said he appreciated what I was doing, but there were things he didn’t eat,” Clark said. “He didn’t eat candy or anything with sugar and he didn’t eat beef. He told me he couldn’t afford to be sick.”
Melvon Taylor died at 59 years old from a strangulated hernia — a common malady that is easily corrected through surgery, but can be fatal if left untreated, as in Melvon’s case.
In the wake of Melvon’s death, his family has been able to gain some insight into how he died, but more importantly, how he lived in the last few months of his life.
“No one should have to die from a hernia,” Melvon’s brother Ralph said. “But what really touched me, was the help he received from others. I’m touched by the compassion and generosity of those who came into contact with Melvon in these last few months. It shows those things still matter in our world. It’s still out there.”
Jason has met several people in the past two weeks who knew his father. He’s finally getting to know his Pop through their stories.
“It took his death for me to catch up with him,” Jason said.
“But it’s been a blessing to hear such positive things about him. He was apparently very likable.”
Jason hopes the story of his father can help other homeless people and smash some of the stereotypes people might have about them.
“We, as a society, tend to neglect them and underappreciate and mistreat them,” he said. “Many of these people once led productive lives, but this disease, mental illness, it attacks the brain like other diseases attack the body. When I was younger, I didn’t understand. It didn’t make sense why he would leave us. But then I learned he wasn’t a bad person. He was a good person with a mental illness.
“I have nothing but love for him. When you understand, you can’t be angry. You just wish there was a way you could have helped that person.”