Madeline Scales-Taylor knows people.
For almost 40 years, she managed workforce development for companies including Saks Fifth Avenue, Melville Corp. and May Company Stores.
The St. Louis native moved to Jacksonville in 1989 and soon joined Mayo Clinic, where she chaired the department of human resources and established the community affairs initiatives.
As the administrator, she was responsible for the philanthropic, civic and volunteer efforts of 5,000 Mayo employees. She was there almost 18 years.
Scales-Taylor, 67, retired in 2009, but her community leadership continues.
What drew you to become a leader in the community?
I came from a family that gave back to the community. My father integrated the fire department in 1950 in St. Louis, and my grandfather, who was a minister, was very instrumental in getting banks to make mortgages and business loans to African-Americans, and he led sit-ins at several of the banks in St. Louis.
We grew up knowing that we had a responsibility to give back to our communities. I can remember my mother saying as she would send me to the neighborhood store, “now you go across the street and ask Ms. Cecilia if she needs anything.” It became a way of life for my family.
What brought you to Jacksonville?
We didn’t know very much about Jacksonville. My husband and I were living in Los Angeles, and we knew that we did not want to stay in Los Angeles.
We wanted a city that was not too large, but wasn’t a town. We wanted a city that was near water, because we love the ocean. We wanted the city to have a significant African-American population. And then we took out an atlas and we started looking at cities particularly on the East Coast because our families were in St. Louis and in Georgia.
My husband was in insurance and I was in retail. We were looking for cities that had hubs of those industries. Jacksonville was one of the cities.
My husband ended up getting a job with American Heritage Life, and I became the trailing spouse. Fortunately, I was able to find a position as well.
We love Jacksonville, and we both decided that this is where we want to remain.
How did your position with Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville come about?
I call it divine order. I was working for The Bridge of Northeast Florida, and was ill one day and was at home. A childhood friend had moved to Charlotte and used a search firm to find a position. The individual with the search firm said they were doing a search in Jacksonville for somebody in human resources for a major company. She gave them my name and they called me while I was home ill. I didn’t think it was a good day, but obviously it was a good day.
Four months later I found myself in a position with Mayo Clinic.
What did you do at Mayo?
They were looking for someone who had a background in human resources as a generalist. I started there and helped to set up their recruitment activities. We were going through building and expanding the facilities. I grew the department from five people into a department of over 12. We grew the organization from 500 employees to about 4,000 when I left human resources. I had responsibility for merging St. Luke’s and Mayo into one organization, which was quite challenging. After that, I made the transition to community affairs.
Mayo had come from Rochester, Minnesota, into Jacksonville. We had to identify ways that Mayo could become more engaged in the Jacksonville community, because we knew that we had a responsibility to assist the city to become better. That was an exciting time for me, getting employees engaged and involved in initiatives, and getting administrators to identify boards that they’d like to serve on, and getting us engaged with organizations like the heart association and the cancer association, and while I was there, the 26.2 with Donna started.
What are some of your significant observations about issues the community should address?
Jacksonville is made up of some wonderfully passionate individuals who really love this city, either because they were born here or because they migrated here and they saw the beauty of this city.
I’ve seen individuals really take a caring attitude about the issues – and we do have issues –– issues of education, issues of housing, issues of haves and have nots. Unfortunately I think the gap between those who have and those who do not is becoming wider.
But I also am encouraged that individuals and organizations are really looking for ways to make this a better place. We’ve got a lot of work to do, though.
How do you choose your focus?
I look for organizations that I can become passionate about. I look at how they’re making an impact, who they’re serving and how they collaborate with others.
We have to look for ways that we can come together around issues and lift those issues up and then bring the human resources and financial resources. I think the city does a really good job.
There’s still a lot of work to be done. But, there’s hope. I think we each have to do what we can, because all those little steps make a big difference.
You grew up in St. Louis.
Growing up in St. Louis was a wonderful time. There were some challenges, and these really shaped me.
I was a United Way baby. My mother had gotten me into a nursery school that was a research program with Washington University in St. Louis, where they were bringing African-American children and Caucasian children together in a nursery school that was sponsored by the United Way, and they studied these children through college.
This was in the very early ‘50s. The African-American students that participated in this program remained friends through our adult lives.
Also, while growing up in St. Louis, my parents integrated a neighborhood, so I was the first African-American child to be enrolled in an all-white elementary school. Ultimately my father was selling real estate, and he sold a house three blocks away to my uncle and aunt, so there were three African-American children in this elementary school.
I remember my mother telling me many years later that she was active in the mothers’ club, and that one of the teachers came up to her and said, “Madeline’s really doing well in our class. She is able to keep up with the other children.” And my mother said, “Oh, I’m very disappointed, because we expected Madeline to excel.”
But St. Louis was a wonderful city to grow up in because we saw, as children, loads of African-American professionals.
It was a very rich, rich community, with culture and encouragement. As a girl I was told, “You are going to college. You will be a professional.” There was never a question.
How did you choose your career?
I kind of fell into it, actually. I thought I was going into social work or nursing. That’s what women did. I didn’t want to teach.
I had a wonderful eighth-grade teacher who told me, “No, the world is your oyster. Go for it. Go for whatever you want. Don’t be limited by what you’ve seen.”
Originally I was a drama major at Webster College, which was an all-girls college right outside of St. Louis.
Webster College had a theater conservatory. I did one year at Drake University in Iowa, and then transferred to Webster College.
I guess I should say that I kind of got asked not to return to Drake.
I’m sorry to say this but we defaced a million-dollar mural with a toast to Malcolm X. So, my scholarship was not renewed. They didn’t suspend me, but they just didn’t renew my scholarship, which was about the same thing as suspending me.
Webster was compassionate, and they accepted me.
My father said, “You have four years of college, I will help you with four years.” For that fifth year, I had to get a loan to finish school.
But I did finish and I ended up changing my major, because if I didn’t change my major I was going to have to stay a little bit longer. I ended up in political science, with a degree in sociology.
Can you expand on the Drake experience?
This was in the ‘60s. I graduated from high school in ’67, so this was ’67-’68. There were 5,000 students at Drake University, and 50 of them were African-American. We decided to unite all of the African-American students in Iowa and have them converge on Drake’s campus in the cafeteria.
We had speakers, and at the end of dinner, we decided to raise our glasses and make a toast to Malcolm X, and somebody took their glass and threw it at this mural, and everybody followed.
All of the African-American students were called into the president’s office and chastised about this. The athletes, who were the majority of the African-American students, were very courageous and stood up for the other students.
No one was suspended, but some of us did not get our scholarships renewed. Without those scholarships, we couldn’t return to the campus.
I remember my dad saying to me, “It’s really wonderful to be an activist, but first you’ve got to get your credentials. So you better find a school that’s going to accept you.” And as I said, Webster accepted me as a student.
How did you move into human resources?
I was working retail. I had started off at May Company in their executive training program, and then I was recruited by Melville Corporation to a small boutique store called Foxmoor. I was a manager and was asked to open a new store in the St. Louis area in Illinois.
Foxmoor hadn’t done their homework. Later we found out when they opened the new mall, they displaced everybody in downtown Belleville, Illinois. And downtown Belleville, Illinois, was unionized – the mall was not going to be a union mall. The unions selected this little store that I was managing to do a union drive.
The company went to court and said that the smallest unit that could be unionized was a district, not a store. I had worked very closely with the vice president of human resources.
About a year later, he called me and said he had a job for me and wanted me to move to Boston. And I did. So, that’s how I got into human resources.
You raised your family in Jacksonville. What are your views about Northeast Florida?
I don’t think it’s as racially polarized as it was when I came. When we moved to Jacksonville we had friends in L.A. who said, “Why are you moving to Mississippi?” They thought we were moving to Jackson, Mississippi. They had never heard of Jacksonville, Florida.
As far as race relations, they are better here than other places we’ve lived. We’ve lived in Boston, we’ve lived in St. Louis, and we’ve lived in Los Angeles, and then I lived in Des Moines, Iowa, for a while. What we see here is that people are a little more honest about racism and race relations. That’s encouraging.
We have still a lot of work to do when we look at the economics of racism, but individuals in Jacksonville are open to talking about and really lifting the covers and looking at the underbelly of bad issues to really impact change.
What suggestions do you have for the city about doing that?
Education is the key issue. We have got to do a better job with our K-12 education. You put money behind those things that you believe in.
We’ve got to stop touting the fact that we have low taxes. I firmly believe that because we will not be successful as a city until we grapple with and really provide quality education for all of the young people in this city.
Additionally, we’ve got to look at ways to bring young adults back to Jacksonville. When individuals graduate from high school, they talk about leaving this place.
We’ve got to make Jacksonville a place where our young people want to return and want to make a difference, because those folks who are my age, we’re not the ones to do it.
We’ve got to look at the millennials and say, “they’re the ones who are really going to impact change.” So we’ve got to get them back.
First Coast Success: Madeline Scales-Taylor
The Daily Record interviewed Scales-Taylor for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross. These are edited excerpts from the interview.
The interview is scheduled for broadcast Tuesday morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or at wjct.org/ondemand.