Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of …
High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee
People like Peter Reed don’t come along every day. He could do many things, but what he liked best was building model airplanes. For those of you who don’t know any modelers, they are a breed apart. I built model airplanes as a kid, but what Pete did bore no resemblance to my childhood pastime. He was a true craftsman.
He was up by five and began each day, from early spring to late fall, with a dip in Gilmore Pond. He never had time on his hands. When he wasn’t in his shop, he was reading, watching sports, listening to music, or engaged in other activities. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day.
For Peter, it had to be just right, whether it was a replica of a World War II fighter plane, the restoration of an ancient canoe, or building a new canoe or a new raft for his next door neighbors. He loved the country and hated cities. After watching the Red Sox go down to their third and last defeat in this year’s playoffs, we were talking about life (as we often did), and I asked him whether he had a favorite city. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “I hate ‘em all.” A few minutes later he told my wife he had been thinking about a concert he attended in Temple last summer and wondered if she could define “music” for him in fifty words or less. They must have talked for at least a half hour.
Several years ago Peter came down with an illness called amyloidosis. This is a rare disease that you don’t want to have. Peter took it in stride, even the lengthy treatment at Boston Medical Center (in a city he didn’t like despite the fact that he was born there). He withstood the unpleasant side-effects and bounced back, nearly as good as new. He had more airplanes to build and fly.
He was a legend in the model airplane world, traveling to Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, Florida and other states for meets. He was a pillar of the National Miniature Pylon Racing Association and a member of the Aviation Model Hall of Fame. He had a network of flying buddies everywhere. He loved them, and they loved him.
On October 14 he got up and announced, “It’s a beautiful day.” With fruit and a sandwich packed for lunch, he drove off to Connecticut for a meet. He got there, put a plane in the air, fell to the ground, and died of a heart attack.
It doesn’t do justice to leave it that Pete built airplanes that are works of art. He had an even greater skill. He built friendships. I never asked him to teach me how to build airplanes, but I learned a lot from him. By his example, he taught me how to live a fuller life.
We have lost a dear friend and the best neighbor ever. Jaffrey has lost one of its finest citizens. Thanksgiving this year will be saddened by his absence, but sweeter for having had him in our lives.