Committee of the Islands

Keeping Sanibel Special Since 1975

Col. Reed and the Committee of the Islands

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July 22, 2010

Published June 22 , 2010 JFK’s Pilot Picked Sanibel Over Hawaii By Barbara Joy Cooley , President , and Mike Gillespie , Vice President Committee of the Islands The Marine aviator who had served during WWII , Korea , and Vietnam – and who once piloted JFK’s helicopter - - took one look at Sanibel and said , “ Here’s home . ” That pilot was Colonel Edwin Reed . He and his wife , Jean – - a Navy flight nurse – - had both been on active duty during the Korean War . They had met in Japan and got married in Hawaii after a short courtship . They fell in love with it and went back many times during their marriage . But something would beckon them to Sanibel . By 1970 , the Reeds started planning for life after the Marines and began the search for a place to live . Their daughter , retired Navy Captain Nori Ann Reed , lives on Sanibel today . Intrigued by what we had heard of this extraordinary military family , we contacted Nori Ann and asked her to tell us more – - about her family , their love of Sanibel , their service to their country … and to our island as well . How , we asked Nori Ann , did your folks find Sanibel ? “ Mom and Dad , ” she said , “ set out in a little Cessna and went island hopping down the East Coast , looking for someplace that captured the ‘ feel ’ of their beloved Hawaiian islands but wasn’t so far from both their families . They stopped off in lots of places , including the Keys , but no place even came close . “ Then , ” she continued , “ on their return to Quantico , VA , where Dad was stationed , they came via Fort Myers , because very close friends lived in Cape Coral . During the visit , Mom and Dad were told , ‘ you have to see Sanibel . ’ And like so many others , they fell in love with it . Though neither of them was impulsive , they bought a Sunset South condominium essentially that day . They came home from their trip , bubbling over with enthusiasm to my brother , Rob , and me about the wonderful place they had discovered . After that , even their favorite island Kauai took second place to Sanibel . ” We asked Nori Ann for some background on her dad and his military service before he arrived here . From A Farm In West Texas “ He was raised on a farm in west Texas , ” she said , “ where his father was essentially a sharecropper for my Dad''s maternal grandmother ( who literally sat at their kitchen table when the cotton crop came in and was given her 51 % before any other bills were paid ) . “ Dad was very tall for his time , ” she continued , “ almost 6 ’ - 5 ” , and was given an athletic scholarship to college . He planned to be a football and basketball coach , but like so many of his generation , WWII changed all that . “ In 1942 , his entire basketball team went down to the Marine recruiter and signed up . Since they had some college and were athletic , the recruiter asked if they were willing to become officers and pilots for the Marine Corps . Despite being mostly Texas farm boys who had never been in a plane , all of them said OK . They all had the attitude of “ whatever needs doin '' , they’d do it . ” Thus began Dad’s lifelong love of flying and his 30 plus year career in the Marine Corps . ” And what , we asked , did that career include ? “ He did great things in the Marine Corps , ” Nori replied , “ at one point having qualified to fly every type of aircraft in the Marine Corps inventory . One of the highlights of his career was being President Kennedy’s pilot in the Marine One helicopter . In the famous film clip of President Kennedy reaching down to stop the toddler John - John from running out to the helicopter , I never watch the Kennedys - - I always try to catch a glimpse of my Dad looking back at the scene from the helicopter window . ” When , we asked , did your parents move to Sanibel full time ? “ During his Marine Corps physical in 1972 , ” Nori told us , “ Dad was discovered to have a brain tumor . Later on , we would find out it was due to Agent Orange from his time in Vietnam , but at the time , “ why ” didn’t matter . Dad was in the fight of his life and spent 5 months in Bethesda Naval Hospital . Upon his release from the hospital , he was also retired from the Marine Corps , and we ( Mom , Dad , and I ) headed for Sanibel . While Dad certainly was ‘ better ’ and would be around for two more decades , from then on our family had almost a sense of being on borrowed time , and where else would we spend it with joy except on Sanibel ? Walking The Beach At Sunset “ Mom and Dad loved to walk the beach at sunset , and I can still see them in my mind’s eye , ambling down the beach , my very quiet , tall Dad nodding at my tiny - in - comparison ( 5 ’ - 2 ” ) Mom’s conversation as the day slowly came to an end . ” We knew that Colonel Reed had joined the Committee of the Islands and was elected chairman in 1976 , just one year after its founding . What was it , we asked Nori Ann , that attracted him to this new organization ? “ To Dad , ” she replied , “ the Committee of the Islands seemed to be the right thing to do . I go back to the same attitude he exhibited when he joined the Marines . A job needed doing , and like so many others on the island at the time who joined with him , he set out to do it . “ Dad had a unique perspective on Lee County politics and plans for Sanibel , ” she continued . “ He was a Sanibel resident , but he had been hired as the airport manager at Page Field , which at the time was the main airport for southwest Florida . This job required involvement with the Lee County Commission , both at hearings and in day - to - day discussions . “ Dad became increasingly concerned about what he was hearing when it came to Sanibel . Approval was being sought and granted for more and more densely populated projects . He believed it would get worse , because he thought Sanibel just didn’t have enough voters to sway the Lee County Commission from seeking more and more revenue from bigger and bigger projects - - even thought it threatened to destroy the very reasons why people came to Sanibel in the first place . Coming Together For Sanibel “ Dad didn’t believe in ‘ no growth , ’ Nori continued , “ but he believed that reasonable people could reach agreement on what was proper and in keeping with the Sanibel spirit . That’s what he thought the Committee of the Islands could be about , reasonable people coming together for the good of Sanibel , despite whatever other political views they held . ” We asked Nori Ann , “ What else do you think people who love our island would be interested in knowing about your dad ? ” “ That he never stopped loving Sanibel , ” she replied . “ He has been gone 16 years and spent nearly the last 2 years of his life in a Cape Coral nursing home , a victim of the side effects from the tumor and with many cognitive functions gone . But no matter how confused he was , he never stopped wanting to come home and walk that beach one more time . And Mom , at 86 , still watches the sunset on Sanibel and misses him . Me , too . ” We’re glad this Marine pilot and his family chose to land on Sanibel . We are deeply grateful to them for their service to our country … . and to our island .

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