He was brilliant, erudite, and worldly. Andover educated, he earned an undergraduate degree from Yale and graduate degrees from both Yale and Harvard.
When he arrived at Collegiate in 1976 as Head of the Boys School, his career had already taken him to Hong Kong where he taught refugees from Mainland China at New Asia College, Hawai’i where he served as a teacher and administrator at Iolani School, and Southside Virginia where headed Chatham Hall for five years.
An ordained Episcopal clergyman, eloquent writer, and life-long learner, he was well-read and articulate and a deep and reflective thinker. Yet in his understated way, he was also one of the guys, witty, often self-deprecating, unpretentious, and, without fanfare, just “Bill,” always with that familiar twinkle in his eye.
While he could converse on equal footing with scholars and intellects, likewise he could enjoy a sailing excursion on the Rappahannock River or Chesapeake Bay, mend a broken soda machine with the spring from a ball-point pen (yes, he really did that), cheer on the Cougars in many an athletic competition, and bring a smile to the face of a young, crying faculty child who had taken a tumble in his back yard.
Bill was wise and conciliatory. Never were those virtues more vital than in the early days of the Middle School. You see, when the structure of Collegiate changed in 1986, he assumed the responsibility of leading the new entity. The plan at the time was fluid and sometimes ambiguous. It was a grand experiment and, to be sure, an adventure. Plus, the new paradigm was not universally popular or accepted, not by a long shot.
There were standards to set, programs to develop, a culture to create, a team to build, order to maintain, and egos to soothe. Success would take ingenuity, imagination, resolve, patience, tact, and strength of character.
Bill Reeves brought the right stuff to the challenge. His deft touch steadied the ship. He became the linchpin, consensus builder, guiding light, and architect of the Middle School of today. He believed in academic rigor, but he also believed that in a world of intensifying demands, expectations, and temptations, children needed sufficient “blue sky time” to grow, dream, engage with nature, and, well, just be kids. He had a soft spot for the underdog, but he also championed the most talented and challenged them not to rest on their laurels.
Bill was a Renaissance man and very much a visionary. While he appreciated the institution’s cherished traditions, he intuitively understood where the Middle School needed to go and gently shepherded us into the future.
A broader, deeper curriculum that nurtures all aspects of a child’s growth and development? An advisory program that’s become a national model? A full slate of co-curricular offerings? A no-cut policy at the Cub level that allows every child, regardless of athletic ability, to participate on a Collegiate team? The implementation of new technology?
Bill would tell you they weren’t all his ideas, but he was the thinker, the sage advisor, and the facilitator who played a large role in bringing them to fruition.
“We may have gotten some places more quickly with a different style,” said Charlie Blair, who succeeded him as MS head in 1991 and served in that role until his retirement in June 2019. “But I’m not sure we would have had the fundamental underpinnings we developed as a result of his thoughtfulness and focus on kids. Even though he was brilliant and knew that subject matter was important, he kept bringing back to all of us the fact that it was really about the kids.”
Bill was the quintessence of a servant leader. He delegated well. He listened intently. He presented options, challenged us to consider solutions, guided us every step of the way, picked us up when we stumbled, and celebrated with us when we found success and fulfillment.
At times, he had an almost Zen-like bearing. He espoused mindful thinking long before we even knew what that was. He was truly enlightened and non-judgmental and believed in the innate goodness of all people.
For so many, he was a confidant, spiritual leader, big brother, and guardian angel. He made us stronger. He made us more resilient. He made us better.
Bill stepped back from the Middle School after five years, enjoyed a well-earned sabbatical during the 1991-1992 term, then returned to teach Upper School religion and ethics. He retired for good in 2007.
In 2014 by order of the Board of Trustees, the Reeves Center – the redesigned and reconfigured Student Activities Center – was named in his honor.
In retirement, Bill remained active. He and Jane, his wife and soulmate of 56 years, traveled widely and enjoyed time with their three children – William ’82 (Debbie Berger) of Honolulu and London, Hannah ’83 (Tom Cook) of Boston, and Molly ‘86 (Matt Dolan) of Richmond – and their three grandchildren. He read, he studied, he preached, he sailed, and he provided comfort and counsel – gently and genuinely, as always – to those in need.
Early this morning, Bill slipped peacefully away after a period of declining health. He was 85 years old.
He fought the good fight with dignity and resolve. He finished the race. He kept the faith.
Now that his “momentary affliction” has passed, what’s left – what he leaves behind – is his legacy, and it is, without question, immeasurable. His example of kindness, decency, and grace endures. His spirit will remain in our hearts forever.
-- Weldon Bradshaw