Willis Steward Reed
1932 - 2021
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Willis Steward Reed

Cornish, NH — Willis Steward Reed, 88, passed away peacefully on Thursday, the 15th of April, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, surrounded by family.

Will was born in Dover, NH on December 7, 1932, to Frank Dudley Reed and Gladys May Steward Reed. Willis, the oldest of three children, had a sister Carol Ann Reed Findell (now 84) and a brother David Ellsworth Reed (now 79.) He grew up in Orono, Maine, graduating from Orono High School in 1951. He was on the football team, played the trumpet in the High School Band, and was active in theater. His mother Gladys died unexpectedly in January of 1953, while Will was attending the University of Maine at Orono. It was at the University of Maine where Willis met his first wife, Barbara Jane Knox. He graduated from UMO with a Bachelor of Science degree in Poultry and Agriculture, class of 1955.

He enlisted in the US Navy, starting his active service in December of 1955. He attended Hospital Corpsman School, and was assigned to the USS Howard W. Gilmore, a submarine tender out of Key West, Florida. He and Barbara were married in May of 1957. They lived in a trailer in Key West until he was Honorably Discharged from the Navy in September. They towed that mobile home all the way to Dover, NH behind their 1955 Chevy Bel Air.

Will soon enrolled as a graduate student, and received his Masters Degree in Poultry Husbandry from the University of New Hampshire in June of 1959. Willis and Barbara had their first child, John David Reed, in September. Will went to work for Eastern States Farmers Exchange. His training program required him to do every job to learn how everything worked and required him to work in many different stores. This meant he and Barbara had to move to Torrington, CT, and Acton, MA.

Discontent with this line of work led to a decision to pursue a new career in education. Willis went back to school, to Boston University, where they lived with Barbara's parents. Their second child, Mark Steward Reed, was born in Medford in July of 1961. With two young children, Willis and Barbara moved back to Dover, NH. Willis commuted to BU, and graduated with a Master of Education in 1963, but not before their third child, Jennifer Reed (Ricker Decker) was born. Willis taught High School math, biology, and chemistry in Newmarket, NH, before moving into school administration. In 1964 he accepted a position as a Guidance Counselor at White Mountains Regional High School, which required a move to Whitefield, NH. He and Barbara bought their first home, an old farmhouse that needed a lot of work. With a wood burning furnace, Willis was kept busy splitting wood, while renovating the house to make it suitable for a young family.

In 1967, Willis and Barbara moved back to Dover, where Will worked at University of New Hampshire as Director of Admissions. While there, he started his lifelong habit of jogging and a general commitment to physical fitness.

Willis soon got the opportunity to help open a new college. The Vocational Technical College system in New Hampshire had programs that were practical, and he believed in the concept of preparing young people to enter the work force will technical knowledge and training, ready to take on highly skilled, well-paying jobs. They were building a new campus in Laconia and Will got to be a part of hiring staff, putting together a curriculum, and getting the building built. He had found his calling and he worked as Dean of Students in Laconia until 1977. Next, he was offered the position as Deputy Commissioner of the NH Dept. of Postsecondary Technical Education, working at the State House in Concord, NH. At the Commissioner's request, Will took over as Interim President at NHTC – Berlin and as Interim President at NHTC – Stratham. During this time, he realized how much he had missed being a vital part of a vocational school.

Willis and Barbara divorced in 1980, and Willis moved to an apartment in Concord, then purchased a Mobile Home in Belmont, where he lived with his son, Mark.

Willis' best friend David Manning died suddenly in 1983, leaving his wife Drewanne Manning and two young children, Heather (5 years old) and Sean (2 years old). Will stepped in to help Drew with home maintenance in Madbury, offered support and friendship, and they fell in love. Drew and children relocated to Birchwood Way in Laconia. Soon after, on October 5th, 1985, Will and Drew were married aboard the schooner Bay Lady in Bar Harbor, Maine. Will moved into Drew's Birchwood Way house and continued to commute to Concord working with the Tech College system. Will and Drew were heavily involved in the Unitarian Church, The Streetcar Company community theater, and music. Will had a high, clear, controlled tenor voice that was beautiful to hear. He used to judge his singing performance based on whether he managed to make the church ladies cry every Sunday. His voice was in high demand in the theater, where he also built the sets. He had several leading roles, which were always well received.

Will and Drew had a passion for being on the water and owned many boats together. He joined the Winnipesaukee Yacht Club and took many fishing trips on their Boston Whaler. He fulfilled a lifelong dream by sailing from California to Hawaii and back with Dave Geisler, the husband of Drew's cousin. They completed their voyage on a sailboat called the Blue Dolphin, using only celestial navigation. They were at sea from 17 June to 25 August 1989. (As if this was not enough of an accomplishment, they repeated the feat again from 15 June to 26 August 1996 – this time with the aid of GPS.)

In 1991, when Will was called to be President of NH Technical College at Claremont, he jumped at the chance. Will and Drew, Heather and Sean moved from Laconia to Claremont. Will retired in December of 1996, having worked for the State of NH for 27 years. Drew had a job as Reading Specialist at Cornish Elementary School and liked the community. So, when Will said he wanted to mow fields, have a big garden, and raise some chickens, the family moved from the city to the country – to Cornish.

He loved this home in Cornish. It has been a destination for family gatherings, reunions, and other special occasions for years. Will had acquired many useful skills in his life, such as carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work, so he had his own handyman business for a while. He and Drew were both Directors of the Cornish Fair. He enjoyed being active and contributing to the community. He worked at the Cornish recycle center and at the Cornish General Store. He got a great deal of satisfaction from the social interaction of seeing people, helping them unload trash, or ringing up coffee at the store. He was an integral part of Cornish for over 22 happy years.

Will is survived by his wife Drewanne Miller Reed, his children John, Mark, Jennifer, Heather Manning, and Sean Manning; his four grandchildren Matthew Ricker, Andrew Ricker, Angela Reed, Remington Reed; his sister Carol Reed Findell, his brother David Ellsworth Reed; his half-brother Richard Reed and half-sisters Susan Reed Ritter, and Mary Reed Drake.

Will Reed was happiest when surrounded by family and friends, telling funny stories about his life. He was a good man, deeply loved, and will be missed by all.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Valley News on May 1, 2021.
Memories & Condolences
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12 entries
May 31, 2021
30 years ago, I had the great good fortune of being in the show "Shenandoah" with Will and working with him was one of the great experiences of my time doing theater. Every night of the show, he tried to make me break character and laugh and he came close many times. We played father and son, but in reality we were two clowns trying to pull off serious moments and it was an absolute joy.

I will always remember him with great fondness and affection. I was only 21 at the time, but Will treated me like an old friend he hadn't seen in forever when it had only been a day's time. His kindness made a life-long impression on me, and the world is truly missing something with his loss.

My deepest sympathies go out to Drew and the entire family. May you be comforted in the days ahead by his memory and the joy he brought to so many.
Bill Smith
May 9, 2021
As President of the Community College in Claremont, Will led by example. He always put the students first and expected everyone else to do the same. He valued the views of each person, weaving together what someone else would have seen as separate insights; in that process he helped each person extend their contributions to benefit both the students and the College. It was a privilege to work within his leadership.
Nancy Marashio
May 6, 2021
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The NHCTC Gang
May 5, 2021
I would have liked to have meet him. What an interesting life.
Ben Lanny Smith
May 5, 2021
Am so sad to have lost the kind and loving brother-in-law with whom I and my late husband share so many good memories over some 50 years!!! Drew, John, Mark, Jenny, Heather, Sean: I loved him too, as you probably know and share your sorrow. I was hoping to sing one more duet with you, Will.
Daiva Miller sister-in-law
May 3, 2021
Will was the perfect example of what a Grandfather should be. He was always there when we needed him, and he will be missed.
Andrew Ricker
May 3, 2021
We send our sympathy! Will was always a joy to be around and a big help at the fairgrounds. Always a gentleman.
Lary & Jill Lord
Beth Isham
May 2, 2021
I am so very sad to hear of Will's passing. Will and I worked together when he was Assistant Commissioner with the technical college system and I was with the NH Department of Education. He was delightful to work with - smart and practical, while also open minded. He was a gentleman in the best sense of the word- always kind, respectful and thoughtful of others. Will also possessed a truly wonderful sense of humor, and my fondest memories of him are of the laughs we shared. I loved listening to his stories of adventure, and misadventure, and admired his ability to always view life's experiences with the kind of joy and wonder that is usually the province of a children. I am grateful to have known him and humbled to have been his friend. If I close my eyes and listen really hard, I can still hear his wonderful laugh. What a gift he was to all who knew him.
Joan Schwartz
Joan schwartz
May 2, 2021
I worked with Willis in the NH community college system. He was a great colleague to work with.
RIP Willis, your work here is done.
Jo Ann Clifford
May 1, 2021
Will was a wonderful human being! NHCTC Claremont was very lucky to have his guidance!
Sandy Cole
May 1, 2021
I worked for Will at the Technical College. He was a wonderful, kind man and a super boss. I have such fond memories of working with him!
Nancy Blair
May 1, 2021
I would first like to say that his obituary was beautiful, and tells the story of his life very well. I worked with Will while both of us worked for the NH Technical College system; he as the Assistant Commissioner, and me as Vice President of the Manchester campus. I always found Willis to be very approachable and fun to be with. And yes, his story telling was one of his many gifts. I occasionally share some of those stories with friends I know will appreciate a good laugh. He will be missed by many, as will his influence on many of us who had great respect for him. I wish to share my condolences with his family who grieve this loss.
Roger Berlinguette
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