Former Maine Gov. John Reed dead at 91

Posted Nov. 02, 2012, at 6:53 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 02, 2012, at 9:26 p.m.
Gov. John Reed in 2008
Gov. John Reed in 2008

Maine’s top government officials on Friday praised former Gov. John H. Reed for his kindness, commitment to service and ability to achieve bipartisan consensus.

Reed, who died Oct. 31, at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., was one of only three Republicans to lead Maine since he took office in 1959. He was 91.

Maine’s governor from 1959 to 1966, Reed is credited with starting educational television in Maine and creating a network of University of Maine colleges, according to a 2008 article published in the Bangor Daily News. He also pushed to combine school districts to save money.

Only two Republicans have taken Maine’s highest office since Reed’s term: John McKernan (1987-1995) and Paul LePage (2011-present).

Reed “was very attentive to the feelings, the needs and the desires of the people,” Reginald Bowden, a Reed spokesman from 1961 to 1965, told the BDN in 2008. Bowden said there wasn’t a day in his administration that Reed didn’t get out and visit people.

“These are hard-working people, and I wanted to look after their interests,” Reed said at the time.

In a 2009 interview with Maine Ahead magazine, Reed said he would like to be remembered as a man “who did what was right and sought what was best for the people of Maine. I was respected, I believe, and made friends on both sides of the aisle and did my best.”

In that same interview, Reed was asked about his biggest fears for the state. He replied, “I have no biggest fear.”

In a statement issued Friday, Gov. Paul LePage described Reed as “a kind man, dedicated Navy veteran, and passionate about public service. It is a sad day for Maine as we have lost a man who contributed so much to our great state.”

McKernan and his wife, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, praised Reed’s “tremendous work ethic and can-do spirit, rooted in his Aroostook County upbringing” as a key to his success “when he was suddenly thrust into the governorship in 1959.” They also noted that three U.S. presidents, Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republicans Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, appointed Reed to federal posts.

“We are profoundly saddened to learn of the passing of our extraordinary longtime friend, former Gov. John Reed — whose life exemplified the finest ideals of public service,” McKernan and Snowe said in a joint statement. “We will miss him tremendously, even as his legacy of service will long resonate throughout Maine.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, issued a statement from Caribou on Friday. “Gov. Reed devoted his life to public service,” she said. “No matter where Gov. Reed went, he never forgot his ‘County roots.’ Gov. Reed was a dear friend, and as a fellow native of Aroostook County, I know how proud he was of the people and the place he always considered home.”

Collins went on to note that, during his retirement in the Washington, D.C., area, Reed regularly attended annual Maine State Society breakfasts.

“He truly enjoyed sharing stories about our state and talking to people who shared his love of Maine,” she said.

Another Aroostook County native, state Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, is the only current legislator who served during Reed’s governorship. Martin’s first term in the Legislature coincided with Reed’s final two years as governor.

“I can’t think of a kinder and more gentle person serving in that office,” Martin said in a phone interview Friday. “I never heard him say a negative word.”

Martin, who went on to become speaker of the Maine House of Representatives from 1975 to 1994, noted that during Reed’s tenure as governor, Democrats achieved majorities in the Maine House and Senate for the first time since before the Great Depression, which started in 1929.

“In terms of his relationship with legislators, it’s one of the best that I’ve had,” Martin said. “That relationship was excellent with both parties. He refused to make a partisan issue of the Vietnam War.”

Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, Maine’s current speaker of the House, recalled meeting Reed as a youth on a school trip.

“I remember him then, and in later years, as a kind, thoughtful man,” Nutting said in a statement. “As governor, he will be remembered as a consensus builder who sought common-sense solutions to the challenges of his time.”

Reed was born in Fort Fairfield on Jan. 5, 1921. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine in 1942 and graduated from Harvard Naval Supply School in 1944. He was a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was on active duty during World War II.

In 1954 he ran for the Maine House of Representatives. Serving a single term in the House from 1955 to 1957, he ran for the Maine Senate in 1957 and upon re-election in 1959 was chosen Senate president.

On Sept. 20, 1959, holding the highest office in the Maine Senate, Reed became Maine’s governor upon the death of Democrat Clinton Clauson. In 1960 he defeated Democrat Frank Coffin to serve out the remainder of Clauson’s term. He won his only full term as governor in a narrow victory over Democrat Maynard Dolloff in 1962, according to the National Governor’s Association website.

During his tenure as governor, Reed served on the executive committee of the National Governors’ Conference from 1963 to 1964 and 1965-1966. He was chairman of the association in 1965 and of the New England Governors’ Conference from 1965 to 1966. In November 1966, Reed lost a re-election bid to then-Maine Secretary of State Kenneth Curtis and was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Transportation Safety Board. In 1976 and 1981, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands, according to the association’s website.

Visiting hours for Gov. Reed will take place at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Christ United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C., where the funeral service will be conducted at 11 a.m. Interment with Masonic Burial Rites will be conducted in spring 2013 at Riverside Cemetery, Fort Fairfield.

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