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Lee Reiff

1929 - 2014
Lee Reiff Obituary
Lee H. Reiff

Bristol, VA - Surrounded by his family, Lee H. Reiff, son of T. E. and Ione Austin Reiff, died peacefully at home on September 6, 2014, in Bristol, Virginia. Born July 6, 1929, in Newton, Kansas, he graduated from Newton High School and received a Pepsi-Cola National Scholarship for his college education. He attended the University of Kansas for a year and then transferred to Southern Methodist University, where he excelled in forensics, including competition in debate tournaments on a national level. He participated in the Methodist Church's Youth Caravan movement in the summer of 1949, which involved training at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, and assignment of teams to various annual conferences. His team spent several weeks in the North Mississippi Conference. He had no idea he would return to live in Mississippi 11 years later and to Junaluska to live 44 years later. While at SMU, he met Gerry Long. They became good friends, then grew in love and married in 1950. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from SMU in 1951 and remained on that campus for his seminary education at Perkins School of Theology.

In 1954, Lee, Gerry, and their infant son, Joseph Tillman moved to Bakerville, Connecticut, where he served as pastor of the Methodist Church while he pursued Ph.D. studies in New Testament at Yale University. Just after his first Sunday at Bakerville, the church building burned to the ground, so he led a successful three-year campaign to raise funds for a new building. In 1957, he received the Dempster Graduate Fellowship, awarded by the Methodist Church's Board of Higher Education. In 1960, the Reiff family, now including a second son, James Nathan, moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where Lee began teaching in the Religion department at Millsaps College. He finished his Ph.D. degree in 1963, and aside from one year at McMurry College in Abilene, Texas, Dr. Reiff spent the rest of his career at Millsaps and chaired the department from 1965 until his retirement in 1992. He received the College's Distinguished Professor Award in 1989.

Lee was ordained an elder in the Central Kansas Conference of the Methodist Church in 1956 and transferred his conference membership to Mississippi in 1966. He understood his callings to the ordained ministry and college teaching as integrally related, and in 1994 the Mississippi Conference gave him the Francis Asbury Award for his contributions to United Methodist higher education. Many of his students over the years have served as ordained ministers in the United Methodist Church and other denominations, and four have been elected Bishops in the United Methodist Church.

Lee considered it an honor to call T. W. Lewis III both colleague and friend; Millsaps students in the 1960s dubbed them "the Righteous Brothers." Their work together for 30 years is commemorated at Millsaps by the Reiff-Lewis Endowment Fund, which provides for leadership training and response groups to supplement the annual Summers Lecture (bringing nationally- known theologians and social activists to campus for the continuing education of clergy and laypersons). In addition, each year the College presents the Lewis and Reiff Awards to seniors who have demonstrated a commitment to the life of the mind and the life of the spirit by their contributions to college, church, and community.

During years of intense social upheaval, Lee worked tirelessly along with Gerry and many friends of all races toward the goal of creating a new Mississippi. From 1967 to 1971, he served on the Board of Directors of Child Development Group of Mississippi (Head Start), and from 1968 to 1971 he was on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Council on Human Relations. He represented Mississippi at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago as a member of the interracial Loyalist delegation. From 1971 to 1977 he belonged to Jacksonians for Public Education and served as its president for two years. From 1969 to 1980 he served on the Board of Directors for Communications Improvement Inc., a non-profit group which held the interim license for WLBT-TV in Jackson as the result of a landmark court case. CII successfully transformed the city's top-rated commercial television enterprise into a station which served the entire community. Deeply concerned about equality for all persons, Lee served for eight years on the Mississippi Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Before he retired from Millsaps, Dr. Reiff chose to return to the other career option he had considered seriously in college and began studies at Mississippi College School of Law. He finished his J.D. degree in 1993, and that same year he and Gerry moved to Lake Junaluska, NC, where he intended to take the bar exam and practice law. However, that was not to be, because he was also diagnosed with colon cancer that summer. He survived two surgeries related to that illness, and also survived two subsequent cancer diagnoses. In twenty years at Lake Junaluska, he was an active member at Waynesville First United Methodist Church and regularly served as one of the teachers for the Faith Class. In May 2013, he and Gerry moved to Bristol, Virginia.

He was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Glenn Austin Reiff; and his sister-in-law, Amy Little Reiff. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Gerry; his son, Joe and daughter-in-law, Betty Clark Reiff, of Abingdon, Virginia; his son, Jim and daughter-in-law, Diana Molina Reiff, of San Antonio, Texas; grandchildren, Rachel Reiff Ellis and her husband, Luke Ellis, Sarah Kathleen Reiff, Joseph Clark Reiff and his wife, Jenni Seale Reiff; great-grandchildren Noah, Rosie, and Max Ellis; brother-in-law, Joseph T. Long, Jr.; nephew, Glenn A. Reiff; and nieces, Martha J. Reiff, Kelley Long Gillespie, and Elizabeth Long Davis. Lee welcomed James Allen Tiblier and Kristen Nicole Tiblier to the family when their mother, Diana married his son, Jim.

A memorial service will be held at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina, on Friday, September 12 at 2 PM with Rev. Sandy Giles officiating. The family will receive friends immediately following the service. Burial will be at a later date in Houston, Texas. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to First United Methodist Church, 566 S. Haywood St., Waynesville, NC 28786, or to the Reiff-Lewis Endowment Fund through the Institutional Advancement Office at Millsaps College, 1701 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39210. The family wishes to express deep gratitude to the Asheville Memory Care clinic, the staff at Grand Court, Bristol, caregiver Sue Smith, and the staff of Caris Hospice, Bristol.

Those wishing to express sympathy online may do so by visiting and signing the online guest register.

The Reiff family is being cared for by Farris Funeral Cremation & Funeral Center, 19415 Lee Highway, Abingdon, VA 24210, (276) 623-2700.

Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on Sept. 9, 2014
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