John H. Reed, former Maine governor, dies at 91

November 2, 2012

John H. Reed, a Republican who served as Maine governor from 1959 to 1966 and later served as U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka at the start of that country’s protracted civil war, died Oct. 31 at George Washington University Hospital. He was 91.

He died of pneumonia, said his daughter Cheryl Reed.

While governor, Mr. Reed was instrumental in starting educational television in Maine and oversaw creation of a network of University of Maine colleges, now known as the University of Maine System.

After losing reelection as governor, he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 to the National Transportation Safety Board and became its chairman. At the time, Mr. Reed declared himself a staunch supporter of Johnson’s Vietnam War strategy.

Mr. Reed was U.S. ambassador to the Indian Ocean island republic of Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 1976-77 and again from 1981 to 1985, serving the first stint under President Gerald R. Ford and his second under President Ronald Reagan.

At the time, the Sri Lankan government reportedly was seeking U.S. military equipment to combat the Tamil rebels who were fighting for an independent state in the northern part of the country. The bloody guerrilla war began in 1983 and lasted 26 years, until the government defeated the so-called Tamil Tigers. Tens of thousands of lives were lost on both sides in addition to environmental and economic destruction.

John Hathaway Reed was born Jan. 5, 1921, and grew up in a potato farming family in Fort Fairfield, Maine. He graduated in 1942 from the University of Maine and served in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II.

He served in the Maine Legislature from 1955 to 1959, the first two terms in the House and final one in the Senate.

While he was state Senate president, Mr. Reed became governor in September 1959 upon the death of Clinton Clauson. The following year, Mr. Reed defeated Democrat Frank Coffin to serve out Clauson’s term. He won Maine’s first four-year term as governor in 1962, defeating Democrat Maynard Dolloff.

From 1978 to 1981, Mr. Reed was government relations director of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade group in Washington.

Mr. Reed settled in Washington in 1985. He was a past president of the Maine State Society of Washington and a past vice-chairman of the National Conference of State Societies. His memberships included Christ United Methodist Church in the District, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Mr. Reed’s wife of 60 years, the former Cora Davison, died in 2004. Survivors include two daughters, Cheryl Reed of Alexandria and Ruth Duford of Groveland, Mass.; and three grandchildren.

— Staff and wire reports

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