Ken Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran, dead at 81

Former Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor has died. The 81-year-old was most famous for his role in the 1979 covert operation known as the "Canadian Caper," when he sheltered six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis.

Diplomat was famous for his role in 'Canadian Caper' during Iran hostage crisis in 1979

Former Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor has died, his son told CBC News on Thursday.  He was 81 years old. 

The Calgary-born diplomat was most famous for his role in the 1979 covert operation called the "Canadian Caper," when he sheltered six Americans who escaped capture when a mob of Iranians stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took most people inside hostage in November 1979. 

Taylor kept the Americans hidden at his residence and at the home of his deputy, John Sheardown, in Tehran for three months. Taylor facilitated their escape by arranging plane tickets and persuading the Ottawa government to issue Canadian passports. 

His actions during the hostage crisis were portrayed in Ben Affleck's 2012 movie Argo. But Taylor and others, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, felt the film downplayed Canada's role in the operation.

In 2013, Taylor's story was told again at the Toronto International Film Festival, which debuted the documentary, Our Man in Tehran.

'Great life to celebrate'

In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that Taylor "valiantly risked his own life by shielding a group of American diplomats from capture."

"Ken Taylor represented the very best that Canada's foreign service has to offer," he added.

Taylor's son, Douglas Taylor, told CBC News in an interview from New York that it was a "sad day but a great life to celebrate."

He said when his father was asked about the Iran hostage crisis, "he always liked to say that anybody else would have done exactly what he had done."

Taylor had been diagnosed with colon cancer in August, his son said, but "took full advantage of the time he had left."

During his final week in hospital, the former ambassador received visits from friends and reminisced about their lives, Douglas Taylor said. 

He also spent time with his grandchildren and his wife, Pat, his son said. 

His mother and father were together for 55 years, Taylor said, and "had a great life together."

He said his mother was "an integral part" of what happened in Iran while maintaining her own career as a microbiologist. 

'Enduring gratitude' of the U.S.

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman issued a statement expressing condolences to Taylor's family.

"Ambassador Taylor earned the enduring gratitude of the United States — and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal — for his valour and ingenuity in harbouring six American citizens trapped in Iran in the aftermath of the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and, ultimately, in securing their safe return.

"Ambassador Taylor's courageous actions exemplify the enduring nature of the special relationship between the United States and Canada."

With files from The Canadian Press


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