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Former Wilson’s president remembered  for philanthropy

GREENFIELD — “Bob was one of the kindest, most generous folks I ever met.”

Robert Reid, past director of the Greenfield YMCA and former president of Wilson’s Department Store, was remembered fondly by YMCA Executive Director Robert Sunderland Friday, as news of the former business leader spread around Greenfield.

Reid died Wednesday in his home, at the age of 87.

“Bob built Wilson’s into a local institution, and I admire him for that,” said Ann Hamilton, leader of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce for the past three decades. “He was a very loyal Chamber member, always very supportive of the things we did.”

Hamilton said Reid worked behind the scenes, helping where he could but never seeking credit.

“He didn’t like the limelight,” she recalled. “He always had good ideas, and carried them through, but he liked to be quiet about it.”

In his time, he served his country and his community. He took a break from business school at Amherst College to join the Army during World War II, and returned safely, finishing his studies in 1949, with a bachelor’s degree in business.

From there, it was on to the family business, Wilson’s, which George Willis and Robert’s father, R. Stanley Reid, bought from the Wilson family in April of 1929, and the Reids moved from North Adams to be closer to the business. Robert Reid was 3 at the time.

At the landmark department store, Reid did everything from deliveries, to store improvement projects, and clerical work, before taking over as president after his father stepped down in 1960.

Robert Reid ran the store until 1990, when he handed the reins to a third generation, in the person of his son-in-law, Kevin O’Neill.

Hamilton also admired Reid’s commitment as a trustee and former president of a local cemetery.

“I remember him the most for his diligent work at the Green River Cemetery,” she said. “As a volunteer, he took on a lot of the care-taking there.”

Fellow trustee William Allen also remembered Reid’s commitment to the cemetery.

“He led the Green River Cemetery through some pretty tough (financial) times, and worked hard at it,” said Allen.

A former director public works for Greenfield, Allen worked with Reid on infrastructure projects, as well. Those included downtown parking, and work to separate the town’s storm drain system from its sewers.

Reid was well-known in the local business community.

“Bob, his wife Marge and I were good friends,” said Frank “Bud” Foster, founder of Foster’s Super Market. “He was a great guy.”

He recalled taking Reid along on a trip to the Boston fish market, where the two were stuck waiting for a pair of swordfish Foster had ordered.

“We waited for three hours on that fish pier,” Foster recalled with a laugh. “He never let me forget it.”

During his time with the YMCA, Reid helped with several large projects, both as president from 1963 to 1965, and as a trustee from 1965 until 2012.

“He was on the Building Committee for the 1970 addition to the Y,” said Sunderland. “Later, he was a major donor for our 1980 addition, and also our 2004 and 2010 additions. It would have been very hard to do those additions without him.”

Sunderland said Reid was one of the YMCA’s biggest financial supporters, always willing to dig deep for special projects, and contributing annual donations to help low-income families send their kids to the YMCA.

He also made contributions to pay back $65,000 that had been borrowed from the YMCA’s endowment by its directors to keep the YMCA above water. The directors weren’t able to fulfill their promise to repay it, so Reid stepped up, said Sunderland.

But Reid’s generosity didn’t stop with the YMCA.

“He was very financially generous to many local organizations, including Greenfield Community College and the hospital,” said Sunderland.

Reid also served on boards at Franklin Medical Center, the United Way, and local banks.

Fellow local businessman Channing L. “Joe” Bete Jr. remembered Reid as a community-minded family man who was always willing to help.

“He was a quiet person, a humble person, who put himself behind the issues of the community,” said Bete. “He would provide direction in a very soft way. It’s a rare quality for a leader, he was wonderful to work with.”

Though many remember Reid for his quiet community involvement, Bete was especially inspired by his home life.

“He was an example to me of how to be a good husband, father, and family man,” he said.

Though Reid is gone, said Bete, his legacy lives on.

“We will all continue to benefit from all that he has done,” he said.

“He was a role model for everyone,” added Sunderland.

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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