A celebration of life was held on Sunday, Oct. 25 for Supervisor Bill Reid, who passed away suddenly Wednesday morning from a pulmonary embolism. The celebration was held at Bridgeport Barns and Terrace, where hundreds of friends, family and colleagues turned out to honor a man who touched a great many lives in this county. Complete with a 21-gun salute, CHP aerial flyover, uplifting eulogies and shots of single malt aside his urn, it was a fitting tribute for a man who devoted his life to enjoying relationships, to public service, and to defending his righteous beliefs against an insufferable liberal onslaught (wisecrack in memoriam).
I was fortunate enough to get to know Bill over the last few years as a reporter, and then as a colleague within County government. In that relatively short time, I was impressed by his ability to meld two oft-repellent forces: passion and temperance.
While he succeeded in doing this from his seat as Supervisor, I am told he exercised far more passion, and far less temperance, from his seat at Rhino’s.
Nonetheless, he possessed extraordinary capabilities as a moderator and a political strategist, which contributed to his truly rare effectiveness as the District 4 Supervisor — something that has been admired, and perhaps coveted, by allies and adversaries alike.
Bill’s reputation preceded him into his recent foray into county politics. Those who were there will recall stories of titanic clashes with Andrea Mead Lawrence on environmental issues, and an unyielding right-wing perspective. Hearing these tales, one can practically feel his fist crashing down in the Board Chambers with a demigod-like resonance.
Boisterous, opinionated, influential and effective, he was adored by the right. As for the left, they were made skittish and nervous at the mention of his name.
But as his left-leaning daughter pointed out on Sunday, Bill had a history of defying expectations, and when he returned to the District 4 seat in November 2006, he did just that. He had “mellowed,” some have said, and actually supported legislation that 15 years prior would have brought down the fist.
During polarized deliberations over recent years, the only unyielding aspect of Bill Reid was the respect and decorum he brought to the table — whether at community meetings or in the Board chambers — and for this, he received nothing less in return.
The masses present at his celebration were proof of that, and it was offered from all ends of the political spectrum. Without citing names, I am pretty sure five of the most right-wing individuals in the county were in attendance, along with five from the far left.
Although Bill didn’t share each and every opinion, he believed in the forum where all could speak, and when those forums were flooded with perspectives contrary to his own, he was not afraid to reconsider his position. During his recent term, those positions were occasionally sacrificed when they did not win the day, and for that he garnered a surpassing respect.
A theme that was brought up on Sunday was Bill’s honesty and integrity — qualities not easily maintained in politics — but Bill held those qualities in much higher regard than any desire to be re-elected, and spoke to his constituents with a refreshing and sometimes brutal honesty.
It didn’t matter what you wanted to hear, when you asked Bill Reid a question, you’d better expect a straight answer. This led to more than a few dejected constituents over the years, but was also cause for great enthusiasm when Bill proclaimed something would happen.
For better or worse, his word was bankable, and it helped build confidence in county government in District 4, where the fan base is, well, less than robust.
The day before he passed, Chairman Bill Reid made a speech in the Board Chambers. It was not uncharacteristic, but did seem inspired. He had listened to his fellow board members, heard from the proponents, and invited the input of detractors before he commented.
The subject was the Bridgeport Indian Colony’s request for Board support of a land transfer, a historically controversial subject upon which he, as usual, did not tread lightly. He covered a host of issues, including the community’s fear of a casino in Bridgeport, the dire need for economic development, and above all tribal sovereignty.
Bill asked the audience whether or not they would be willing to give up their constitutional rights, as some had suggested the Indian Colony should. In this case, it did not come down to what his friends wanted. It did not come down to the arguments of vocal community members.
All of those issues mattered immensely to Bill, but in this case it came down to one issue: what was right. Under normal circumstances, those comments may not have echoed as long as they now will.
His ability to divine the bottom line from a confounding pile of arguments will not be easily replaced. If these traits were all that made up the man, he would have been exceptional, and I considered him such based solely on that capacity.
Having come to an understanding of the countless friendships he built over the years, the family he provided for, and the joy he provided those close to him, I realize with sadness just how much of the man I didn’t know, and unfortunately will not come to know.
Sometime soon, we should all raise a glass to the legacy of integrity, joy and statesmanship he has left behind.
Sheet contributor Tony Dublino covered numerous Mono County Board of Supervisors meetings during his tenure as a staff writer.