The Revd (Fr) William Alexander (Alec) Reid: 1923-2019
By Duncan Reid
December 19 2019
William Alexander Reid – Alec, as we all knew him and as he preferred to be called – was very clear that there should be either a sermon or a eulogy today, but definitely not both. There's a sense in which this whole eucharistic celebration of Alec's life is itself a pointer to the new life of the reign of God, so I'll let the liturgy do the work of a sermon. And I'm here to speak about him because, as he put it himself on such occasions, I'm family – or to be precise, and Alec was very precise on this matter – I'm a second cousin once removed. I remember having to look up what “once removed” meant the first time he told me that (It's all about which generation you belong to).
And indeed, my earliest memories of Alec are of a fairly austere, and – in more ways than one – rather distant relative, in a black suit and clerical collar. When he came to my ordination in Gippsland and stayed overnight, I remember thinking: “How on earth do I make conversation with this person?” It was an evening with lots of longish silences. I now know what I should've done to put him at ease – and I would've known this if only I'd paid more attention to what educationalists like to call the hidden curriculum, that is the implicit, not just the explicit, curriculum, at Trinity College Theological School. The trick would've been to have said Evensong with him, then opened a bottle of either sherry or port – depending on whether it was before or after dinner. He would've been absolutely fine with that.
Some years ago, Alec gave me some quite detailed notes about his parents and grandparents, but which – unfortunately – were typically reticent about himself and his own life. His father Les had served in France during the First World War, and had met his future wife, Gertie Bower, an English VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse, while on leave in England. They arrived in Australia in 1920 and settled in South Sassafras (Kallista) in the Dandenong Ranges. Alec was born there on 21 April 1923, the second child of Les and Gertie, with an older sister Barbara and a younger sister Helen being born some years later. The siblings grew up surrounded by cousins, the children of Les's siblings, who lived in the same area. As a child, Alec delivered newspapers around the area, including, I'm told, to the home of Mr Tom Roberts, the Heidelberg School painter, who was something of a local identity.
From 1936, Alec was a scholarship student at Melbourne Grammar School, where he appeared in the school play in 1937, received his Intermediate Certificate in 1938 and matriculated in 1940. He was employed by the National Bank of Australasia for a short time in 1940-41, before enlisting in the 22nd Infantry Battalion and serving in New Guinea and New Britain. After the war, Alec studied at Trinity College within the University of Melbourne, graduating with a BA (Hons) in 1948 and a Licentiate in Theology in 1950. At one point during his time at Trinity, the students borrowed some road signs from workers outside the college and during the night set up a detour that took the early morning Royal Parade traffic through the main gate of Trinity, around the paddock and out the other gate. History doesn't relate whether Alec was personally involved in this prank, or – more likely – merely a bemused observer. Alec was on the teaching staff at Trinity for a short while before his ordinations as deacon in 1950 and priest in 1951.
After a curacy in Malvern, in this diocese, in 1951-52, Alec moved to the UK where he exercised a ministry in the Diocese of Lincoln. His parish included a tiny village, still fewer than 135 people according to my research on Wikipedia earlier this week, which went by the grand name of New York. Alec was always rather proud of having been sometime the Vicar of New York. I discovered the Diocese of Lincoln also contains the port of Boston – but that was in another parish.
Alec returned to Australia to serve as vicar of Lilydale in 1958, and then Rector of Charlton in the Diocese of St Arnaud in 1962. From 1971 to 1981, he worked overseas with the Australian Board of Missions (ABM), first teaching theology in Kuching in Sarawak, and then as principal at Newton Theological College in Popondetta, Papua New Guinea. The current staff and students of Newton College send their condolences to this gathering. Alec returned to serve as Vicar of St Anselm's Middle Park from 1981 to 1989, then as an Honorary Assistant at St Peter's Eastern Hill and later here at St Peter's Murrumbeena. Alec authored a history of the parish of Middle Park in 1991 and was co-author of a history of the village of Kallista in 1993.
I think I can speak on behalf of the family here, though I haven't consulted every last one of you, and I certainly won't attempt to name everyone for fear of leaving someone out, in thanking the people of this parish who visited Alec and made him feel very welcome at church when he could get here, once a month. And also, in thanking the staff at Spurway Nursing Home who cared for him, especially in these last few years when Alec was so incapacitated after his stroke, and so frustratingly unable to communicate as easily as he would've liked to do.
Alec was always a very private person. He seldom talked about himself; it was always about whomever he was talking to, and it was always out of genuine interest in that person. He was always – or almost always, because there were moments in these last few years when his sense of frustration showed through – full of acceptance and patience with the situation to which life had led him. He always had his Prayer Book and Bible to hand, and I know he made constant use of them – no doubt for the benefit of us all.
The Revd Dr Duncan Reid delivered this eulogy at Fr Alec Reid’s funeral at St Peter’s Murrumbeena on 1 November 2019.