October 21, 2020

Princeton Remembers Marvin Reed, “Serving Everyone in the Community”

By Donald Gilpin

Marvin Reed, who died on October 12 at age 89, had an immense variety of interests and accomplishments, and a lifelong commitment to public service during his careers in education, public relations, and local government.

The focal point of his energy and attention was the town of Princeton. He was Princeton Borough mayor from 1990 to 2003 and councilman for a total of 19 years, in addition to the many other positions he held.

“His most important legacy was his compassion and passion for making Princeton a better place,” said his daughter Liza O’Reilly in a phone conversation from Massachusetts, where she lives with her family. “He always wanted to make it better.”

She described his ability to work productively with others and to persevere in pursuit of what he believed in. She mentioned particularly the redevelopment of the Princeton Public Library and the surrounding downtown area. “He got a lot of opposition going into that,” she said, “but he just worked at things that he had a passion for and believed in making better.”

She added, “He listened to people, but he kept moving forward. And it turned out that many of the things that he focused on and believed in did turn out to be the right things despite opposition.”

O’Reilly, who serves on her local school board, noted her father’s influence on her. “He was a mentor to me. He inspired me to go into public service, and my mother did too.” 

In 2018 Reed and his wife Ingrid were awarded the Leslie “Bud” Vivian Award for Community Service by the Princeton Area Community Foundation for a lifetime of service to many local, regional, and state level projects, committees, and organizations.

O’Reilly continued, “He and I talked about campaigning, how you serve constituents, how you work with staff, and how you conduct meetings.” She described how she had been going through some of her father’s papers and had been particularly intrigued by the annual speeches he would give on New Year’s Day.

“I was in awe of many of the profound things my father would say in these speeches,” she said. “He said them kindly and constructively but very pointedly. He really put himself out there. He wasn’t afraid to say things that he really believed in, but he said them kindly and respectfully, which is so refreshing in this day and age.”

Former Councilman Bernie Miller recalled Reed’s extraordinary vision and his ability to make that vision an enduring reality for Princeton.  “I first got to know Marv when I was treasurer for the Friends of the Princeton Public Library,” Miller wrote in an email. “Long before most of us, Marv had recognized the need for a new and larger library to serve all of the residents of Princeton and be located in our central business district.”

He continued, “But beyond the need for a new public library, Marv foresaw the opportunity to create a vibrant area around the library with apartments, shopping, and an attractive public space for both residents and visitors. Time has proven his vision for a new library and the redevelopment of the surrounding area to be correct. It is one of Marv’s many legacies to our town, and we will benefit from it for years to come. Marv’s insight and deep concern for all of the residents of Princeton will be greatly missed.”

Reed’s son David, now living with his family in California, echoed Miller and others’ recollections of his father’s efforts on behalf of the whole community. 

“As I continue to reflect on his life, what always comes to mind is his never-ending genuine interest in serving everyone in the community,” David Reed wrote in an email. “From the over 500 weddings over which he presided to the lengthy and careful attention he paid to the redevelopment of the library and adjacent public spaces to the relocation of the hospital, it is hard to comprehend how much effort and attention to detail would have been required. Only a short list of people will know how much he put into everything, but everyone in the Princeton community will be forever touched by the work he did.”

Mildred Trotman, former Princeton Borough mayor and former councilwoman, met Reed in the 1980s when they were running for Council on a ticket with Barbara Sigmund, who was seeking re-election as mayor.  “I don’t think I would have been in politics as an elected official for more than 26 years if it hadn’t been for his wisdom, patience, and stick-to-it-iveness as our friendship developed over all of those years,” Trotman said. “I will miss him so much.”

She went on, “He was such a joy to be around and to work with. We didn’t agree all the time, of course, but unlike politics today we sat down and discussed. We respected each other’s opinion, and we made the best of it all, at the same time thinking what would be in the best interest of Princeton Borough. ”

Trotman emphasized the thoroughness and attention to detail that characterized Reed’s contributions.  “We must have walked every inch of Princeton Borough when we ran that first time. He was knowledgeable about many things, and those things about which he was  not so knowledgeable —ask him in a day or two, and he would have risen to the occasion. He was a person for getting to the bottom of things and getting to know and assimilate information.”

Mark Freda, who is running unopposed for Princeton mayor in next month’s election, recalls serving on Borough Council with Reed for many years. Emphasizing Reed’s continuing achievements even after stepping down from his post as mayor in 2003, Freda wrote in an email, “Marvin invested significant time and effort into his work on Council for this community. He was very knowledgeable on many topics and he continued to work for our community even after he stepped down as mayor. He did a lot of good for our community and he should be remembered for those contributions.”

Reed’s interests stretched far and wide, with a great affinity for travel and the arts, including the culinary arts. Gail Ullman, who served on the Princeton Planning Board and many other local organizations, remembered fondly the way Reed fostered the relationship between Princeton and its sister city, Colmar, France, organizing week-long tours for Princeton residents to Alsace.

“Those of us who joined him remember the beautiful little city, the vineyards sweeping up into the Vosges Mountains, the museums, the churches, and, most of all, the food. Daily, Marv managed hours-long lunches or dinners, or both, of incredible food and wine, thoughtfully including bus rides that allowed us to sleep them off.  He made those trips unforgettable. Marv absolutely loved organizing them.”

An obituary for Marvin Reed appears on page 38 of this week’s Town Topics.