James M. Taylor
NRC executive director

James M. Taylor, a retired Navy commander who served on the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1980 until his retirement in 1997, working seven years as executive director, died Aug. 27 at his home in Austin. He was 79.

The cause was frontotemporal degeneration, said his daughter, Virginia Scott.

Mr. Taylor joined the NRC — the agency that regulates civilian use of radioactive materials and nuclear power plants — after working for nearly 25 years on the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.

At the NRC, he rose to such positions as director of the office of inspection and enforcement and deputy executive director before taking over the top staff post in 1989. He also served as the organization’s chief financial officer, his daughter said.

In addition to his oversight work in the United States, Mr. Taylor helped lead joint U.S.-Soviet initiatives for nuclear safety. In 1988, he traveled to the Soviet Union with a U.S. delegation that visited the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

James Marlin Taylor was born in Pottsville, Pa. He was a 1956 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and received master’s degrees in nuclear engineering and naval architecture, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1961.

During his Navy service from 1956 to 1976, he developed a specialty in high-speed submarines. He served on the advisory committee of the International Atomic Energy Agency and received numerous recognitions for his government service, including honors from Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said his daughter.

Mr. Taylor was a longtime resident of Alexandria, where he served in the vestry at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, an Episcopal congregation. He retired to Florida in 1997 and later moved to Texas.

Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Michelle Fox Taylor of Austin; two children, James Taylor Jr. of Washington and Virginia Scott of Austin; a brother; a sister; and five grandchildren.

— Emily Langer