After 22 years as a member of Missoula City Council, the longest tenure of any sitting member, Ward 5’s Jack Reidy says he’s ready for retirement. “It’s time,” he says, with just a hint of sadness. “You come to the point where you know you should move on, and I’ve reached that point.”
Jack Reidy, 85, sits quietly as he mulls over his 22 years of service on Missoula City Council trying to decide which achievement makes him most proud. After a few seconds staring out a nearby window, he blinks, and then his eyes open wide before he says, “What we did down there with the riverfront…the trails and the parks around that, that was something we did good.”
The memory harkens back to what several city officials cite as Reidy’s finest moment in service of Missoula.
On a mild March evening in 2004, the Council had wrapped up, of all things, a contentious debate over the Riverfront Triangle and the environmental impact a proposed extension of St. Patrick Hospital would have. Reidy seized an opportunity to launch into what for him was a lengthy speech.
He told the room how he’d attended the first movie ever shown at the Fox Theatre, which once resided on the triangle site. He recalled sewage dumped into the Clark Fork River, and how the city’s downtown dump constantly smoldered with fire.
“Everybody burned coal and wood and the steam engines—you couldn’t see the mountains, you didn’t care if you had open space or not. So I’m going to tell you something. You’re living in heaven when it comes to environmental issues compared to what was then,” he said.
Having lived in Missoula for 81 years, Reidy’s the only member of Council with that kind of knowledge about the city, and that’s what most of his colleagues say they will miss about him.
Recalling Reidy’s speech, Mayor John Engen laughs. “When Jack gives a speech you better listen, it’s usually something worth hearing,” Engen says. “Jack, again, is a man of relatively few words, but those were pretty remarkable words, and I think it created a new perspective in the room that was sort of getting mired in rhetoric.”
Engen describes Reidy as a constant gentleman, not necessarily immune to frustration or anger, but always capable of remaining friends at the end of a long night. “That’s an art form that’s being lost,” the Mayor says.
First elected to Council in 1983 as a Democrat, Reidy won five consecutive campaigns in Ward 5. He initially planned to step down in 2005, but his constituents prevailed upon him to serve out the term of Bob Lovegrove, who had died that October. The sitting Council didn’t want to let Reidy go either, and voted to keep him in Lovegrove’s seat.
Former Ward 2 Council member Jim McGrath says Reidy’s accommodating attitude and willingness to work with others best represent the man he worked with for eight years.
“When people would get insulting or anything like that, he’d be like, ‘Hey, I don’t agree with McGrath at all, but don’t accuse him of that,’” McGrath says.
And Reidy doesn’t reserve that treatment just for his fellow councilors. Missoula’s Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Bender, who’s worked with Reidy for all of the Council member’s 22 years, says it’s always been a pleasure.
“What I always appreciated about Jack is that you knew where his issues were at, but he always treated the staff fairly regardless, even if he disagreed with us. You never felt like he would go after the staff person talking. He always respected us,” Bender says.
Noticeably uncomfortable with praise, Reidy shifts in his chair uneasily when someone compliments him. Recently when Council voted to name the conference room adjacent to Council Chambers the “Jack Reidy Conference Room” he declined to vote on the issue at all.
“It’s nice that they did that,” he says, “but I don’t know. No one can ever say they did this or that; Council works as a group.”
Or at least, that’s the ideal. Reidy’s not sure the Council has done its best, recently. Over the last year he has on several occasions criticized the group for bickering and nursing grudges long after a controversy has run its course.
“You look at the Broadway Diet project. I never supported it from the beginning when they brought in a consultant to work on it, but it happened, so what can you do?” he asks. “Some people still bring it up though, and I can’t see the point of that. It’s over, and all that type of behavior does is cause bad blood.”
Occassionally, Reidy hasn’t always applied the gentlest touch himself. In fact, he freely admits he’s regularly gruff and grumpy.
“Just ask my wife. She’s always calling me a grump,” he says. “But I have always tried to respect everyone. How else would anything get done if we couldn’t talk?”
But McGrath says Reidy’s prickly surface conceals a good-natured character underneath.
“He makes that sort of his persona of being gruff, and always sort of being short with people. But really, he’s a nice, personable guy.”
Reidy retired from his work-a-day life 23 years ago when he left his career driving a truck and selling bread for Eddy’s Bakery. At the time, he never expected he’d wind up missing every Monday Night Football game since Howard Cosell called the action.
“I didn’t even think of running for Council until my wife talked me into it. She said I should, and so I did,” he says. “Like most people I hadn’t even really followed the city all that much before then.”
But, he’s ready to move on now. “It’s time,” he says, with just a hint of sadness. “You come to the point where you know you should move on, and I’ve reached that point.”
When the Council convenes for its first meeting of the New Year on Jan. 7, however, Reidy knows where he’ll be.
“I’ll be sitting at home watching it, and if I see them doing anything wrong, I might just call.”