Constable: 3 years in Schaumburg hotel, book on Guyana emerges

 
 
Updated 3/3/2015 1:34 PM
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  • Growing up in a mining town in the Amazon jungle, Conrad Taylor became the first Guyana native accepted into West Point. The country he left for college in 1969 had a political conversion and lots of anti-American sentiment when he returned in 1973.

    Growing up in a mining town in the Amazon jungle, Conrad Taylor became the first Guyana native accepted into West Point. The country he left for college in 1969 had a political conversion and lots of anti-American sentiment when he returned in 1973. Courtesy of Conrad Taylor

  • Conrad Taylor's book about how he went from the rain forest of Guyana to become a West Point graduate was written during his three years living in a Schaumburg hotel.

    Conrad Taylor's book about how he went from the rain forest of Guyana to become a West Point graduate was written during his three years living in a Schaumburg hotel. Courtesy of Conrad Taylor

  • At home in Hoffman Estates in the 1990s with his wife, Ona, and children, from left, Conrad "Atiba," Christopher and Candace "Candy," Conrad Taylor is winning acclaim for his book, "Path to Freedom." Taylor tells his story of being the first resident of Guyana to graduate from West Point.

    At home in Hoffman Estates in the 1990s with his wife, Ona, and children, from left, Conrad "Atiba," Christopher and Candace "Candy," Conrad Taylor is winning acclaim for his book, "Path to Freedom." Taylor tells his story of being the first resident of Guyana to graduate from West Point. Courtesy of Conrad Taylor

  • Accustomed to life in a remote mining town in the Amazon jungle, Conrad Taylor faced life-changing moments that were positive and negative as he became the first resident of Guyana to be accepted into West Point. A cadet during the turbulent years between 1969 and 1973, Taylor returned to a Guyana that had gone from a U.S. ally to a supporter of the Soviet Union.

    Accustomed to life in a remote mining town in the Amazon jungle, Conrad Taylor faced life-changing moments that were positive and negative as he became the first resident of Guyana to be accepted into West Point. A cadet during the turbulent years between 1969 and 1973, Taylor returned to a Guyana that had gone from a U.S. ally to a supporter of the Soviet Union. Courtesy of Conrad Taylor

Hoping only to provide a little "cultural heritage" for his family, Conrad Taylor pulled out a laptop in his Schaumburg hotel suite and began to write some notes about his life.

"I wanted to write stuff for my kids and grandkids, who didn't know anything about Guyana," recalls Taylor, 65, a successful American businessman and West Point-graduate who began life in Mackenzie, a remote bauxite mining town in the Amazon jungle of that South American nation.

Taylor and his wife, Ona, had lived in Hoffman Estates and sent their three children to Fremd High School and St. Viator High School. But the couple were settled in a community near Orlando, Fla., when Ona's former employer, AT&T, coaxed her out of retirement in 2008 to work on a six-month project.

Running his TCF Business Group consulting business, Conrad Taylor decided to stay with his wife in the suite they rented at a Schaumburg hotel.

"I started writing the morning she took off for work," he remembers. "I had done a few newsletters for companies and a thesis for M.I.T., but I was really struggling."

After a month, he started over, finding a nice conversational rhythm for his story. Even then, writing proved tricky. He'd write while his wife was at work. The next morning, "I would go to what I had written, and there was when the problems would start," he remembers. "I would spend all my writing time editing what I had written."

They would return to their home in Florida every few weeks.

"I found that when we went to Florida, I couldn't write," he says. "When I got back to Illinois, I could write."

His wife's six-month project lasted three years, which enabled him to finish his story, and also become such a fixture at the hotel that he taught English to several staff members. People urged him to publish his story as a book.

"Because I decided to self-publish, I needed to become a publisher," he says. His "Path to Freedom" book has been included in the Smithsonian Libraries and won honors from several online book and reader organizations, including indieBRAG, the Book Readers Appreciation Group.

A mix of history, geography and Cold War politics, Taylor's coming-of-age story begins with his often idyllic boyhood among the natural wonders of Guyana, home to the majestic Kaieteur Falls, which is five times taller than Niagara Falls. Although he lived in an apartment with no electricity or running water, his parents, George and Hyacinth, always focused on the importance of a good education.

A smart boy and a good student, Taylor went to the prestigious Queen's College in the capital city of Georgetown, an eight-hour boat ride from his home. From there, he became the first man in the history of his nation to be accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"I had arrived in June of 1969 blissfully ignorant about the harsh nature of 'The West Point Experience,'" writes Taylor, who admits he wasn't prepared to live in the same "beast barracks" that had spawned military giants such as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton and Norman Schwarzkopf.

Taylor wanted to quit and come home, and he remembers his first phone call home (to neighbors who owned the only phone). The collect call cost about twice what his father made each month, but his mother cheered him up and talked him into staying.

After he graduated from West Point in 1973, he returned to a Guyana that had gone from an ally of the United States to a nation that had aligned with the Soviet Union and developed a strong anti-U.S. sentiment. Working with the military, he ended up in detention. Eventually allowed to work for a pharmaceutical company, Taylor and his family flew out of the nation on the sly.

Taylor went on to receive a master's degree from the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. and work for Polaroid, Baxter and Film Fabricators before starting his own firm. His parents, mother-in-law (all now deceased) and other relatives came to the United States, and Taylor hasn't been back to Guyana.

His book ends with his family arriving in New York City on a cold, snowy Jan. 27, 1977, with no money and a hope of hooking up with a relative.

"People say, 'Well, what happens next?'" Taylor says. "I'm working on another book."

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