If Memorial Building, Whitman’s oldest building, were to one day grow legs and walk away, it might cause a similar reaction to what many on campus will feel on June 30, 2009.
On that day, R. R. “Pete” Reid ’49, a Whitman institution, known in the community as “Mr. Whitman,” will walk out of his office for the last time and enter retirement.
That’s the plan anyway.
Reid, 85, who graduated from Whitman with a degree in economics and business, and then stayed on to serve in numerous capacities — including as the college’s long-time treasurer and chief financial officer — has tried to retire before.
The college and all of his colleagues even threw an official party in 1990. But then he almost immediately returned to work part time at the behest of then Whitman President David Maxwell.
Recently, when Reid told current Whitman President George Bridges about his decision to retire, the president immediately said, “Why?”
“I said, ‘Well, I’ve been here for 61 years and I’m 85 years old,’” Reid said and laughed.
But support is spotty for his retirement, and there’s some disbelief, too.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said a laughing Dan Reid, 53, one of four sons of Pete and Hedda Jorgenson Reid ’49.
Besides family, the college “is his life,” Dan said. In addition to Pete’s official administrative duties, through the years he would take calls after work, at midnight, whenever, when plumbing or other campus problems arose, because everyone knew that “Pete would know what to do.”
And still does. Reid — who still downhill skis with his four sons, although he’ll hit the lodge sooner than they do, and who still has a memory that can recall events, times and days as if he were reading the words off of a page — doesn’t need to retire and shouldn’t, said Professor Emeritus George Ball, 93, who didn’t retire until age 87 and still comes to work in his Memorial Building office.
“Pete’s irrepressibly positive outlook on the college and the greater Walla Walla community has inspired many generations of students, faculty and staff. His affirming warmth and gentle humor routinely lift the spirits of those around him.”
— President George Bridges
“I think he would be mistaken to retire; I frankly hope he doesn’t quit … The stuff he does doesn’t reduce him in power or strength, and what he is doing is useful,” said Ball, who described Reid as a gentle person who is “never down, never small, never bitter, always fundamentally optimistic.”
Reid’s current position is assistant to the president, his main responsibility being to watch over the college’s 15 farms and get top dollar for the wheat crops. President Bridges said Reid has served Whitman with distinction “longer than any president, administrator, faculty or staff member in the college’s history.
“He cannot be replaced.”
Bridges said Reid’s “valuable contributions have provided Whitman with a solid administrative and financial foundation, and then some.”
In 1949, Whitman College had a $1 million endowment, the campus was about half its current size and had about a dozen buildings, including the four fraternity houses. With Reid’s help, the endowment has grown substantially over the years, and the campus is now about 70 acres and has close to 50 buildings. During his tenure as treasurer, Whitman acquired an additional 45 parcels. The student center is named after him, as is a scholarship and a city-owned foot bridge that connects the campus to downtown.
“But the significance of his guiding influence extends far beyond the institutional structure of Whitman,” Bridges said. “Pete’s irrepressibly positive outlook on the college and the greater Walla Walla community has inspired many generations of students, faculty and staff. His affirming warmth and gentle humor routinely lift the spirits of those around him, and his abiding love and affection for his wife, Hedda, and his family offer a model for living to which many of us aspire.”
Bridges said while he’ll miss Reid’s daily greetings and sage advice, he’ll continue to seek his counsel in the years ahead.
Reid intends to put some of his institutional knowledge and advice on paper. One of his plans for retirement, besides traveling with his wife, is to sift through decades of annual president’s reports and attach notes so future decision-makers will have additional insight into issues and decisions recorded in those reports.
Reid grew up in Spokane, Wash., the family moving there after his father’s bank in Harrington, Wash., failed in the Depression. He was an Eagle Scout and a serious student, but he also had a mind of his own and opinions of how he wanted to spend his extra time. He remembers being weary of his family’s frequent trips to church and quipped he “might as well move down there.” To make it more fun, he and a friend would sometimes sneak into the church balcony so they could read the “funny papers.”
After naval service in World War II, Reid entered Whitman, became president of Phi Delta Theta and was elected student body president his senior year. As such, he worked regularly with school administrators, who decided they wanted to make use of his talents. After his 1949 graduation, he was hired to assist with the new job-placement office and to travel each fall and spring for admissions.
His offices have always been in Memorial Building, which is where most of his classes were as a student. His first office was in the basement. “I thought it was pretty good — a part-time secretary, kind of the big-time, making $250 a month,” Reid said.
He eventually became the college’s business manager, and later treasurer, chief financial officer, overseer of the Whitman Farm Committee and assistant to the president. Reid serves as an adviser and mentor to Phi Delta Theta members and others who come to him for counsel and assistance.
He also served a stint as president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, and in the community on the boards of the local United Way, the American Red Cross, banks, hospitals and city committees. He’s a past winner of the community’s Town-Gown Award for his extensive community service.
“Although Pete will not be as visible on campus as in the past, we will continue to enjoy and appreciate his handiwork in every Whitman building, board meeting, ball field and budget,” Bridges said.
“Pete Reid is everywhere.”
— Virginia Grantier
Scholarship honors Reids’ legacy
Eleanor Zais ’10 is grateful to Pete ’49 and Hedda Jorgenson Reid ’49 for their help, and she hopes to make them proud.
Zais, who plans on “going to seminary” and perhaps working as a youth pastor or missionary, is a recent recipient of the Pete and Hedda Reid Scholarship.
The Reid endowed scholarship was established in 1990 with gifts from the Reids’ classmates, family and friends on the occasion of Pete’s first — and ultimately unsuccessful — attempt at retirement. It is an unrestricted scholarship, solely based on need, awarded to several students each year. Last year, it provided more than $19,000 in financial aid.
Pete and Hedda have said they see their donation as an investment in the future, Zais said.
“Though I do not yet know where the future will take me, Mr. Reid can be certain I will do my best to ensure he and Mrs. Reid will receive a full return on their investment.”
Zais, a transfer student, said that after getting news she had received the Reid scholarship, there was no question she would attend Whitman.
“Whitman College had offered me three times more financial aid than any other school I applied to, largely due to the substantial contribution of the Pete and Hedda Reid Scholarship,” Zais said.
“Every time I stop to think about what my life would be like at another college, I am exceedingly grateful for the Reid scholarship. Whitman provides the perfect balance of academic and social challenges that have helped mold me into the smart, independent woman I have become. I have fallen in love, not only with Whitman, but with Walla Walla.”
Those who wish to make a gift to the Pete and Hedda Reid Scholarship Endowment may do so by contacting the Office of Development.