Sweet Briar mourns Shirley P. Reid, namesake of SGA’s employee excellence award

January 28, 2017 | Jennifer McManamay

The Sweet Briar community was saddened to learn of the death of Shirley Pendleton Reid, who passed away at Fairmont Crossing in Amherst on Jan. 26, 2017. She was 79.

Reid joined the Sweet Briar College staff in 1954 and retired 57 years later in 2011. She began work as a housekeeper in the Mary Helen Cochran Library and trained to take on increasing responsibilities until she became the circulation supervisor.

Shirley-placeholderThe library wasn’t her first job at Sweet Briar, though. In 2005, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her employment at Sweet Briar, Reid recalled that she worked part time at the College in high school. Her job was to go to students’ rooms to announce male visitors.

Reid, who became a full-time employee the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools in Brown v. Board of Education, saw momentous changes during her tenure, both on campus and off. She said then-head librarian Tyler Gemmell encouraged her to broaden her skills to be ready for progress that would bring opportunity — such as becoming one of Sweet Briar’s first African-American supervisors.

“She used to tell me things would change,” said Reid, who would raise two daughters and watch both graduate from college to lead successful careers.

In addition to the evolution of hairstyles, hemlines and societal attitudes, Dewey Decimal card catalogs gave way to a computerized Library of Congress system, and Reid was part of the conversion.

“That was a job,” Reid said in 2005. “But you change along with things.”

As part of her responsibilities, Reid supervised countless student employees — numbering in the dozens at any given time — and was a friend, kindly advisor and example to many. Her dedication to the job was legendary and she was beloved by the generations of faculty, staff and students who relied on her expertise.

“She truly was the face of the library for decades and students loved her,” says Cochran’s director John Jaffe, who is on sabbatical this year. “She was at once mentor and mother to thousands over the years. Looking at the accomplishments of her two daughters, Valerie and Yolanda, you can get an idea of the high standards she set and the encouragement and insistence on education that she inculcated in all her contacts.”

Interim director Joe Malloy worked with Reid for 15 years and also knows what she brought to the library and the Sweet Briar community.

“Shirley P. Reid was a delight to work with and I learned many things from her about running a library,” Malloy said. “She will be sorely missed by me and many others.”

Her contributions did not go unnoticed. In 1997, the Student Government Association created the annual Shirley P. Reid Excellence in Service Award to recognize College staff members — and named her its first recipient. She also was recognized in 2001 as a Centennial Award winner for having a significant impact on the College.

Reid is survived by her daughters, Valerie Reid Jackson and Yolanda Reid ’91; two stepsons, Dock Reid III and Charles Reid; three grandchildren, Richard, Angela and Terence Jackson; and a large extended family, including many current and former Sweet Briar employees.

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30, at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 160 W. Court Street, Amherst, VA 24521. Community Funeral Home is handling the arrangement. Click here for the obituary.

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