Remembering Lady Joan Reid

Lady Joan Reid

It is with great sadness that we report the loss of Lady Joan Reid, who passed away on Friday, 10 November 2017.

She was the Benjamin Franklin House’s Historian and also served for nearly 15 years as a Governor.  Born in 1932 on a train to her doctor mother in India, she fittingly lived in fascinating places, among them, Borneo, Nigeria, Kenya, Thailand and Australia.  She supported her husband Sir Bob Reid who would serve as Chairman of Shell UK among other important posts, and their three sons, of whom – and eventually their families – she was most proud.  It required a practical nature and flexibility, which she had in abundance. During those years she taught in schools, lectured on art and culture, established charities and became a careers advisor.

It was while serving on the Council for the Royal Society of Arts in the late 1990s that she discovered Benjamin Franklin House, which the Society had taken an interest in given Franklin’s role as its first international member.  Her passion for American history, cultivated as an early Fulbright scholar at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, ensured she would become critical to the project to turn a derelict building into a must-see heritage site, recruiting Sir Bob to Chair (1999-2007) along the way.

Her exquisite curiosity and capacity for knowledge ensured that she became Britain’s leading Franklin scholar. Walter Isaacson, award winning author of Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, thanked her for “being both meticulous and unflinching in her crusade to separate facts from lore.  In doing so, she expended not only an enormous amount of intellectual energy but a huge pile of colored Post-it notes filled with suggestions.”  Benjamin Franklin’s Author in Residence, George Goodwin, noted in the dedication to his 2016 book, Benjamin Franklin in London, the “hours of insight about a man of so many talents and ambitions,” that Lady Reid provided.

She helped shape our Historical Experience which uses Franklin’s words, live performance, sound and visual projection to tell his London story.  She delivered countless lectures on Franklin and wrote many articles highlighting the way Franklin thought and influenced humanity.  She worked with clients of neighbouring homeless charity, The Connection, to interest them in writing and recording their lives as Franklin did in his Autobiography.  She was a judge for our annual young writer’s literary prize and early House science fairs.  She turned her dining room into a project office when the House was in the final stages of conservation, and she was there when the ribbon was cut by a UK Foreign Secretary and US Ambassador, to officially open the House for the first time to the public as a dynamic museum and educational facility.

During her career she had been Founder and Chair of the Unicorn School for Dyslexic Children, Chairman of Club L International, a Trustee of YMCA College and the London Mozart Players, Chairman of the British Federation of Women Graduates Charitable Foundation and so much more.  She was brilliant and generous in every way.  We will miss her greatly and are considering ways we can honour her legacy.

Obituary in The Scotsman