Del. Jack Reid, R-Henrico (Reid family)
I knew Del. John S. “Jack” Reid was in the building just by his unique booming voice and Foghorn Leghorn dialect. It echoed through the marble-floored corridors of Virginia’s Capitol and even pierced the chaotic din of the press filing room.
When I heard it, I knew it was almost showtime. The House of Delegates was about to convene.
I guess that sense of fun was what I missed about the General Assembly after Jack’s retirement in 2007. And it’s what I thought of first when I learned of his passing in a social media post by his son, Richmond radio talk show host John Reid.
Jack was an original, larger than life. Predictably conservative and always accountable, unafraid to call out foolishness, including his own, notwithstanding its party of origin. I was not the only scribe covering the General Assembly who admired him for it.
He and a few of his partners in mischief along the back row of the House floor on the Republican side were a never-ending font of rollicking commentary and practical jokes that kept the chamber giggling, to the occasional vexation of multiple speakers of the House and its longtime clerk, the late Bruce Jamerson.
Jack was a founding father of the House’s “Sensitivity Caucus,” which perennially administered the eagerly awaited end-of-session rite that became known as the Pop-Up Award.
Jack and his buddies – seatmate and former Del. Jack Rollison, current Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, former Del. S. Chris Jones and the late Del. Tom Gear key among them – would take careful, if imprecise, notes of delegates who felt compelled to “pop up” from their seats most frequently to hold forth on most any piece of legislation, great or trivial.
Once, in the punchy exhaustion of the final day of the 2000 session, Jack took the wireless center aisle microphone from the House into the men’s lavatory just off the floor. Each time the House speaker, Vance Wilkins, tried to speak, the gurgle of a flushing urinal flooded the sound system and drowned him out.
Then there was that time when a crusading delegate (I won’t embarrass him here) notorious for his unstinting advocacy of legislation advancing certain social causes had just finished a stemwinder on the House floor. The bill was going nowhere, but why waste a perfectly good opportunity for purple oratory?
I saw Jack and some of his cohorts who had heard it all too many times huddled and whispering. They enlisted the help of a woman member of their caucus to discreetly imprint her lipstick onto a blank piece of paper and write on it that she was a gallery spectator who was aroused by his speech. The note was folded and given to a House page with instructions to deliver it to the delegate in question. Jack and his posse dissolved into hopeless laughter as they watched the delegate adjust his tie and suit jacket, straighten his posture and scan the gallery for a secret admirer.
“We goin’ to hell for this,” he told a co-conspirator who was doubled over laughing.
Not everything was fun and games. Jack made headlines when a handgun for which he had a concealed-carry permit accidentally discharged in his General Assembly Building office as he released the clip and unloaded the weapon for storage in his desk. The round struck a bulletproof vest hanging in his office and caused no harm. Visibly shaken, Jack personally apologized to his colleagues that morning, starting with the Democratic Caucus.
Jack and the General Assembly of that era feel longer ago and farther away than the 15 years since he left public office. Democrats and Republicans battled over policy in his years, and Jack could be as fierce as any of them in advancing positions against government regulations, high taxes and such – even his lost cause to end the requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets, which he called “brain buckets.” But they weren’t intractable blood enemies as partisans are today.
The House was a collegial body then. It was still possible to get things done across the aisle and even indulge a little mirth along the way.
Jack, your spirit made the legislature a better place. I miss you. Rest in peace.
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