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World

Canadian Envoy Ken Taylor, Who Hid Americans During Iran Hostage Crisis, Dies

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The Canadian diplomat and former ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, has died. During the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and '80, Taylor, his wife, Pat, and other Canadian diplomats sheltered six Americans for nearly three months. Taylor then helped them escape back to the U.S., with the help of the CIA. If that sounds familiar, that's because it's the basis for the movie "Argo."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARGO")

BEN AFFLECK: (As Tony Mendez) We get caught, you and Pat go on trial for harboring the enemy, you know that?

VICTOR GARBER: (As Ken Taylor) Pat and I have discussed it. It's the risk we took.

MCEVERS: Joseph and Kathleen Stafford were two of those Americans who Ambassador Taylor sheltered at his house in Iran. And we got them on the line today from our member station KUT in Austin, Texas. And they told me the story of the first time they met the Canadian ambassador, after students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

KATHLEEN STAFFORD: We were hiding from house-to-house in the first five days after the embassy was taken over. We knew the students would eventually find the list of houses and start looking in the homes of the hostages, which is where we were hiding. So Bob Anders called his good friend, John Sheardown, his counterpart at the Canadian Embassy, and said, we're in trouble. And John said, why didn't you call sooner? Of course we'll take all five of you.

JOSEPH STAFFORD: After that, when we arrived at the Sheardowns' residence, there was a young, dashing diplomat there. We had no idea he was the ambassador. In fact, a member of our group asked, does your ambassador know about this, giving us shelter? And John pointed to this young, dashing gentleman and said, there he is.

MCEVERS: So what did he look like in that moment?

J. STAFFORD: Tall, with a full head of grey-silver hair, stylish spectacles, looking very sophisticated, suave and hip.

K. STAFFORD: That's right - a pair of jeans. We thought he was a junior officer like us (laughter).

MCEVERS: You two stayed at Ken Taylor's house for three months. That's a long time for any houseguest. How did you guys manage to get along and pass the time?

K. STAFFORD: Well, when we arrived, at that point, we had no clothes because, for some reason, every time we had to leave one of these houses where we were hiding, the clothes were in the washing machine. And so Pat is a diminutive ballerina, medical researcher and didn't have my size of clothes.

MCEVERS: That was Ken Taylor's wife.

K. STAFFORD: That's right. And so Ken loaned me some of his shirts, and so that's what I wore for the next three months.

MCEVERS: Oh my gosh.

K. STAFFORD: They both worked, so they were gone during the day. And then at night, we would all have dinner together. They would recount what was happening out in the rest of the world, since we were pretty isolated there in their residence.

MCEVERS: The film "Argo" really emphasizes the CIA's role in your escape from Iran and, obviously, the very elaborate cover story that was developed to smuggle you out. But you guys have credited Ambassador Ken Taylor much more for the escape. Explain that.

K. STAFFORD: Well, as far as the escape goes, that was certainly Tony's brilliant idea - Tony Mendez and his friends in Hollywood.

MCEVERS: And at the CIA, right?

K. STAFFORD: Yes, Tony Mendez from the CIA, yes, as a chief exfiltrator, as he was called. And he was also a master forger. But it was just the act of courage of the Canadians and their selflessness - hiding us for three months. And this was supposed to be over in a day or two when we were first invited to the Taylors' house, and it just went on and on. And that was a part of the humbling part to us, to sit there on their couch and think about these people who didn't know us, and they took us in, and we could never repay them.

MCEVERS: How do you think you'll remember Ken Taylor?

J. STAFFORD: Well, as the consummate professional diplomat, but also a man with such outstanding qualities, professional humanitarian, every front that you can think of. He was quite a guy.

MCEVERS: Joseph and Kathleen, thank you so much for your time today.

J. STAFFORD: You're welcome.

K. STAFFORD: Yes, thank you very much.

MCEVERS: That's Joseph and Kathleen Stafford remembering the Canadian diplomat Ken Taylor. Ambassador Taylor died yesterday. He was 81 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.