She was, as they say, well brought-up: the best of education, piano lessons, clarinet lessons, weekly volunteer work at the library, helping out at Sunday school.
She was well-married: Her husband was an associate counsel to President Johnson and executive vice-chairman of the President's Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity. The couple had an apartment at the Watergate, 100 acres in Middleburg, and a listing in the Green Book, Washington's social register.
She taught school -- as black women with that kind of upbringing always did then -- in Detroit. She rose very quickly, becoming an assistant principal in two years, then a principal, later a program analyst for the Office of Economic Opportunity.
In short, she is the archetype of the black woman who came into first success in the '50s: "Middle-class is an interesting word," she said. "It's not just economic, it's mores. You were supposed to succeed -- you were supposed to make a contribution."
So it was almost inevitable that Lynnette Taylor would not only join Delta Sigma Theta, the prestigious and predominantly black women's sorority, but also become its executive director, a position she held for 14 years before deciding to retire. Last Saturday night, Taylor, now in her late 50s, was feted at a retirement dinner at the Washington Hilton. It will clearly rank as one of the sweeter moments of her life. About 500 people came to praise her from among the 100,000 members in Delta chapters across the nation.
On Saturday, people came in from as far away as California, Louisiana and Arkansas. Her two grown sons, as well as her former husband, Hobart Taylor Jr., from whom she was divorced two years ago, were scheduled to attend.
As people arrived, they telephoned in a steady string through the afternoon at the Washington Hilton suite, with its floor-to-ceiling corner windows. Taylor had come in for the day from her Alexandria apartment. She would excuse herself to answer each call, which would last no more than a few minutes.
"I can remember 7,000 names," she said, sitting in her hotel room Saturday afternoon, smiling deliciously at the thought of such an accomplishment. "It's a wonderful feeling."
Those thousands are part of the Delta social network."All a person coming into a new city has to do is look in the phone book and call the local chapter," Taylor said. "You're not a stranger as you move across the country. You can call people who have the same ideas as you -- who feel and think the same way."
Her voice is a lilting, polite, well-controlled, with only a trace of Southern accent. She is very polite, her only make-up a little blush on her cheeks, covering a smattering of freckles on her smooth face. She wears a little gold jewelry with her dress and high heels.
"Even when she's angry, she's low-key," said one Washington Delta. "And she is a stern taskmaster. She expects you to do something and do it right. And if you don't, she lets you know about it."
The Watergate apartment and her work as Delta's executive director are part of the past, and she is changing into a life style that one might expect of someone who has already made herself prominent. Now she wants to devote more time to some of the six boards on which she sits: the Jefferson Federal Savings and Loan; the Education Research Corporation, a textbook pubishing group in Cleveland; the Urban League. (Her ex-husband is on the board of the NAACP.) She is vice-chair of the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts. "I want to write also," she said. "I feel strongly about the way in which black women have approached meeting needs of society."
She dismisses her listing in the Green Book as nothing more than a reflection of all her work. Her jaw becomes set as if she expects to handle yet another question on the elitism of the Green Book and why she doesn't feel either angry or overjoyed at being in it. "When I was a Detroit I had friends of all races," she said, politely launching into yet another discussion of this matter. "I was listed in whatever they had there. I didn't think of it as a social list. Only when I got to Washington did people make an issue of it and say it was a social register. To me, it's a very good directory of who's here in Washington working on cultural activities. I'm always asked how many blacks are in the book. Frankly, I don't know how many blacks are in the book."
It doesn't matter to her. "When I have a program to sponsor, I have no problem getting support from people. I like theater, art -- these people are the very ones providing cultural support to the city."
She still spends some time in Middleburg, at the farm her husband bought years ago. Across the road from the property live Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor Warner. "Down the road," she said, Alejandro Orfila, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, has a farm.
"Mr. Taylor," as she calls her ex-husband, "and I had no problem at Middleburg. I was a member of the Episcopal Church. I knew the people. I enjoyed them. But it bothered me that people thought I shouldn't enjoy them."
"No one worries about titles there" she said about Middleburg. "It's a small town. They have fairs and things. They have the steeplechase and the foxhunt."
In the '40s and '50s, black sororities were very much a status symbol. Some Deltas will tell you that they joined for prestige, for social reasons, not for public service -- although service came into vogue after the civil rights movement of the '60s heated up. Now the Deltas take public service work very seriously. Taylor insists her sorority has always been different. "It's not the kind of organization where people go to play bridge together," she said, her voice frosting a bit. "I joined because I was going to be a professional woman. There were some well-established programs on career counseling and job opportunities. These were a group of women who felt they could be catalysts in society for changing things."
"Let me say this about prestige," she added. "Prestige follows educational attainment -- which is different from money. We had dances -- but they were mainly fund-raisers. You will not find this organization giving dances for the sake of dancing."
The membership is mostly affluent, mostly black women, mostly educators, although there are increasing numbers of lawyers, doctors and investment brokers. Patricia Roberts Harris, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, was one of her predecessors. Prominent members include Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), former Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan, entertainer Lena Horne and opera singer Leontyne Price.
The executive directorship was a job that seemed made for Lynnette Taylor, whose mother was professor of music at Miles College in Birmingham, Ala., whose father was a high school principal and taught at Tuskegee, whose grandfather was a doctor -- one of the first graduated from Meharry Medical College -- as well as the Methodist Episcopal Bishop of Alabama.
"Let's face it," Taylor said, "If you have a B average in college and go all the way through, you're headed for some kind of professional leadership position."
She loves to talk about management. "I'm very much interested in systems and procedures," she said. She is, above all, a businesswoman -- the woman who started the Delta computerized data bank lising members by skills and background, the woman who helped direct the Deltas' financial holdings into profitable investments. The sorority is now worth about $2 million dollars. "I think that's good for a nonprofit organizaton," she said. "As a small business, we rank rather high."
Like those other people listed in the Green Book, Taylor has been a part of the social/fund-raiser circuit. She served on the Ball Committee for the Hope Ship, she worked with the D.C. Youth Orchestra, she goes to the National Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday nights, she reads (science books, Scientific American), she travels.
"I've been to every continent except Antarctica," she said smiling. I don't have particular cities I liked best. There are areas I liked best. I like the northern part of Europe, east Africa. I liked the rim in Asia that starts with Nepal and ends up with Tokyo."
Her parents would have expected her to travel, to analyze her experiences, never to sit still. In fact, they would probably have insisted upon it.
That image has always fit the Deltas -- ever since 1913, the sorority's first year, when Madree Penn White marched for women's suffrage and was selected as one of a group of women to meet with the president on the issue. More recently, the Deltas bought land to build the Delta Towers, a 10-story apartment building for the handicapped and the elderly. The project is underway.
"In the '60s, many of our women were involved in sit-ins," said Taylor. "As long as we're relevant, women will join. They'll feel their time and energies are being well-spent."