Jack Reed, Sr., 1924-2016

Many have observed that the best, most qualified people don’t run for top public offices. A look at the field of Democrat and Republican pygmies squabbling and preening in this year’s presidential race seems ample proof of that opinion.

I am only one of thousands of Americans to complain during the last 30 years that I personally know people who would be more qualified to serve as President of the United States than any of those running for the job. One of the several I have known died this week in Tupelo.

Jack Reed, Sr. was never elected to high office. He ran as the Republican candidate for Governor of Mississippi in 1987, but was defeated in that year’s general election by the Democrat, Ray Mabus, now Secretary of the Navy.  Fairly or not, Governor Mabus’ service in his term of office was not popular.

A prominent Mississippi Democrat said that, “The only problem the we had in the 1987 campaign was that we couldn’t think of anything bad to say about Jack Reed. There were no negatives.”

Over lunch in 2003 at a restaurant across Tupelo’s Main Street from his department store, Reed told me, “Kirk Fordice came over here from Vicksburg in ’91 and told me he was thinking of running for governor as a Republican. He said he was not going to file if I intended to run again. I told Fordice I was not going to run again, that I was afraid I might win.”

It was a good laugh, and by no means an indication that Reed had a frivolous attitude about the governor’s office or that he had given less than 100 percent to his 1987 campaign. It was simply another example of Reed’s famous sense of humor.

Reed’s contributions as a businessman, local civic leader, and his work on behalf of Mississippi public education have been written about at great length during the last couple of days by people who knew him much better than I did.

I do know that he was extraordinarily smart, well-educated, articulate, committed to the greater good and capable of exceptional public service. In my view he was clearly better qualified to serve than most of those at the top of the heap in Mississippi politics in 2016. I seriously believe he would have been more capable of service as President of the United States than most of those who have served during the last quarter century or than any of the candidates currently trying to establish residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Along with Charles Pickering, Thad Cochran and Haley Barber, Jack Reed, Sr. was one of the key people in building the Republican party and making Mississippi a two-party state for the first time since the 19th century. Like them, he was decent, pragmatic, a centrist and an honorable man, who worked to improve public education, racial harmony, and the economic health of the state. In him there was no extremism, no buffoonery, no arrogance, none of the thinly disguised contempt for public education and for the poor that seems rampant in Jackson today.

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