Aneice Taylor, champion of quadriplegics, dies at 75

07/15/2020

Aneice Taylor, a Woodacre woman who founded a charity that supported local quadriplegics for over three decades, died on June 16. She was 75 years old.

Aneice was known in the community for her generosity. After a mudslide left her paralyzed below the neck, she started IN SPIRIT, a nonprofit dedicated to helping quadriplegics afford attendant care so they could live in their homes. To her many clients, she was a friend and a helping hand. The group’s annual benefit plant sale brought together local gardeners, nurseries, students, parents, neighbors and strangers for 25 years. She touched the lives of many, and the nonprofit will live on, allowing Aneice to continue her work in spirit.

“Whether it was just buying one of her friend’s artworks, or just showing somebody the better side of themselves, she was just a real giver,” longtime friend Nancy Nichols said. “She will really be missed, but she will also really be felt.”     

Aneice was born and raised in Fort Worth, Tex., where she met her husband, Gage Taylor, before the couple moved to Michigan to attend school. She was always happy when people could pick out her Texas accent, Nancy said.

Before Aneice graduated, she and Gage moved to a San Francisco rental so he could teach at the San Francisco Art Institute. Aneice gave birth to their first son, Lincoln, and a few years later, the couple bought a house in Woodacre. “It was the early ’70s; it was hippie time,” said Nancy, who was her neighbor at the time. “She was the seamstress, the cook, the mom. She was loved by everybody.”

After moving to Lagunitas in search of more sunshine, Aneice taught tumbling at Lagunitas School. When friends came from Michigan to open a restaurant in Larkspur, they offered Aneice a waitressing job, and she made all her own clothes for the role. 

“The last few days that Aneice was working at [the restaurant], she was so pregnant with Deva, but they were still letting her work at the restaurant,” Nancy said. After the birth of her daughter, Aneice left the restaurant but continued volunteering at the school.

On Jan. 4, 1982, when Aneice was 37 years old, storms had been hammering West Marin so badly that Inverness was cut off from Point Reyes Station for several days. That morning, Aneice, Gage and their children had just come home to change their clothes before seeing friends. A mudslide tore down a drenched hill, knocked Aneice’s house off its foundation, and left her pinned under her refrigerator. 

Walter Dickson, who was visiting the neighbor at the time, came to the scene, where he said he heard Gage screaming. Walter entered the house to try to help, dodging live wires, before finding the couple. He said Aneice was out cold and cut up, trapped under the refrigerator and the collapsed roof. Eventually a crew arrived to take Aneice to Marin General Hospital.

The next day, Gage and Nancy heard from a doctor that Aneice would live but that she was paralyzed. It wasn’t until around midnight that they went in to find her awake. “She kept saying, ‘What happened?’ And then Gage would explain it,” Nancy said, “and then she would say, ‘Put your hands on my chest, or on my stomach,’ and she couldn’t feel.”

The community rallied around Aneice, and during her six-month recovery in the hospital, volunteers built her a new home in Woodacre. In the meantime, Gage left with another woman.

Paralyzed below the neck and raising two kids on her own with no income, Aneice was slipping through the cracks. A May 1, 1988, Los Angeles Times article details her finances at the time of her recovery: She needed $2,700 a month to cover childcare, home maintenance and attendant care, and she was receiving only $1,836 a month in food stamps and state benefits. As a victim of a natural disaster, she received temporary payments from the Red Cross, but she needed long-term security.

At the same time, Aneice was learning about other quadriplegics who were unable to support themselves. With none of the federal, state or nonprofit welfare networks she needed, Aneice decided to start her own nonprofit to help quadriplegics live in their own homes with the attendant care they need.

“She was gonna call it the ‘Quad Squad,’ but I said, ‘No, it can’t be too humorous,’” Nancy said. From a motorized chair controlled by her chin and with a stick held in her teeth to tap keys, Aneice filed the paperwork to found IN SPIRIT in 1987. The acronym stands for “In Support of Paralytics in Real Intense Times.” 

On Jan. 4, 1988, six years after the mudslide, IN SPIRIT received its first grant, $10,000 from the Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation, some of which Aneice donated to a young paralyzed woman, alone and in need.

For quadriplegics, attendants help with the most basic needs: transfers from bed to wheelchair and back, using the bathroom, dressing, eating, household maintenance and socializing. But finding a trustworthy, dependable attendant can be difficult with limited funds. From July 2015 to June 2016, IN SPIRIT provided $49,452 to 13 individuals for attendant care and $5,351 to eight people for special needs, such as wheelchair repair or medical supplies not covered by insurance.

When someone applied for a grant, Aneice would visit and look at their living situation to make sure they qualified. “When she would meet somebody, there would be that immediate bond. It was the first recognition to her that this was something that would work,” Nancy said. “She also saw so much tragedy in people’s lives and so much hardship that she couldn’t help or do anything about, but her whole counseling and listening quality was just wonderful for these people.”

Listening became one of Aneice’s main jobs. “Most days I’d come into her office and she’d be on the phone with one of her clients, and she’d be just chatting with them and making sure their life was okay,” said Amy Valens, Aneice’s friend of over 40 years and a longtime volunteer who now sits on the IN SPIRIT board. “She was one of their friends, sometimes one of their few friends.” 

The community came to know Aneice and IN SPIRIT through the nonprofit’s plant sale. Though Aneice couldn’t garden herself, she was very involved in the plant sale’s direction. “When we were growing plants, she was out there saying, ‘It looks like something’s been eating the basil,’ ‘Don’t put the tomato over there; I want them up front,’” said Amy, who has helped run the sale for over 15 years. “While Aneice couldn’t use her own hands, we were extensions of her hands.” Each year the sale brought in thousands of dollars.

Aneice didn’t just redistribute wealth through her nonprofit; she also advocated for her cause. Whenever cutbacks threatened social security benefits for people with disabilities under the age of 65, Aneice would go to Sacramento to fight, said Marty Meade, a longtime friend and a co-director of IN SPIRIT.

At home, Aneice painted watercolors with a brush held between her teeth. Her dog, Wizard, helped her get around the house, opening doors for her on command. Her daughter Deva said, “She was always really there for us, me and my brother. She was a parent that as a parent myself I still draw from and reflect on her wisdom. She was really accepting and nonjudgmental and also tried to do all the particulars of parenting on a mundane level, too.”

Peggy Donnell, Aneice’s housemate and live-in caregiver for seven years, said, “Aneice was always her own advocate. She directed and managed her own care. After a while you just don’t see the injury even if you’re working with the results of the injury. You just recognize the strengths and the goodness that’s there, and you help support that.”

Aneice didn’t let her paralysis hold her back from living, and she was not one to complain. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she didn’t talk about it much, Nancy said. At first, she had a mastectomy and decided against chemotherapy. Two years later, the cancer returned. She decided to try chemotherapy, and the nurse told her that the particular method would not cause her to lose her hair, Nancy said. “And then after the chemo, she started to lose her hair, and that was hard for her to handle,” Nancy said. “That was one of the few times that I could see it was really bothering her.” 

The chemotherapy also brought on nausea and headaches. “Sometimes, which I thought was really so unfair, because when you’re a quadriplegic from the neck down you cannot feel a thing, when she would get a headache or her neck would hurt it would be like, ‘Come on, this is the only part of her body she can feel. Let that feel like bliss all the time, please,’” Nancy said.

In the last few months, Nancy would ask Aneice how she was doing, to which she would always reply, “Pretty good, pretty good.” 

“She never talked about her death,” Nancy said. “The last several days, she had gotten so she could talk but there was no sound. And I just remember wishing I could read her lips. She would smile and she would be saying things, but I didn’t know what they were.”

 

Aneice is survived by her two children, Lincoln Taylor and Deva Wheeler; five grandchildren, Dustin Parker, Carly Taylor, Darren Taylor, Maple Wheeler and Cassidy Wheeler; and one great-grandchild, Winter Geremia. Donations to IN SPIRIT can be made at inspirit-marin.org.