My Friend Reed: An Essay In Memoriam

For the UAS Whalesong

The moment I came around Douglas Island headed home from fishing September 14, 2016 my phone exploded. As I quickly checked it, I saw everyone’s posts about the bad news. I still can’t fully comprehend it. The posts were a group of shared messages from the Student Conservation Association, accompanied with the re-posters’ opinions. People I didn’t even know were sharing some of the most emotionally charged condolences. The original post was a photo of my good friend Reed, with his “traditionally Reed” long blond hair and large radiant smile. The accompanying note read:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of SCA New Hampshire AmeriCorps member Reed McWilliams, 21, of Bethel, Alaska. On Tuesday, September 13th while off-duty, Reed drowned while swimming in the Connecticut River in Cornish, NH. Earlier in the day, he and his SCA corps mates had been working to restore a section of nearby Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.

Reed’s deep love of the outdoors, his determination to give back, and his joyful spirit will be greatly missed.

Our thoughts and hearts are with Reed’s family, his loved ones and all those affected by this terrible loss.”

Reed, you were the most beautiful soul in this dead end town. You were a beam of hope in a world of gray – the scientist who was going to do crazy things! the guy who was going to change the world; a kind gentleman to all he met-; a person who never let anything get him down; a person who genuinely wanted to make the world a better place.

I knew Reed through what brought him to Juneau: the University of Alaska Southeast. I remember the night like it was yesterday. A handful of friends and I were sitting in a small group room in the Banfield housing building. We were all freshmen, struggling with our beginner biology homework during the first week or so of class. After milling around for about an hour or so, one of my friends threw her arms up in defeat and announced to the group.

“Someone just go get Reed, he knows this stuff”

She then got up and left the room to go get this “Reed” character. When she returned, she was accompanied by a tall, thin young man around the age of 19. He had long, thick blond hair and a large goofy smile resting on his face. He proceeded to excitedly try and explain our homework to us at least three different times. I think two other students may have understood him, however most of us were still confused.

“I can’t believe you guys aren’t just completely mind blown by this” he said as we packed up our stuff to go home. He then proceeded to ask me if i knew anyone who had any spare fishing lures he could use to get some salmon to feed himself. My ears perked up and I invited him out to my truck. After that night, a friendship began to develop. By the end of it, I saw Reed as more of an inspirational brother than a friend.

Photo by Steve Brockmann

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