Nat Reed, environmental icon, dies at 84


Nathaniel Pryor Reed came from old money, but his love was the land. Part of the Reed dynasty of southern Martin County’s Hobe Sound and Jupiter Island, he hobnobbed with the Bushes and members of FDR’s cabinet.

But he also fought for environmental battles long before they were cool.

Reed died Wednesday, his son confirmed. He would have turned 85 on July 22. 

"My prayer of thanks is that I've been offered so many opportunities and the joy I have had in taking them on," Reed said in 2014 when the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation gave him its annual "Champion of the Everglades" award. "Lord, keep giving me opportunities and life to take these opportunities to see if I can make meaningful change."

On July 3, in Quebec, Reed fell and struck his head on a rock just after hooking a 16-pound salmon on one of his favorite rivers, and never regained consciousness, son Adrian Reed said Wednesday, the day the family withdrew life support. 

"He thought his perfect exit would be to catch a perfect catch, and 'boom,' " Adrian Reed said. "And he nearly pulled it off." 

Reed was environmental adviser to then-Gov. Claude Kirk in the 1960s and Assistant Secretary of the Interior to presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford from 1971 to 1977. In both capacities, he played a role in, among other things, creation of the Big Cypress National Reserve, east of Naples.

He also is in line for a posthumous honor. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called for naming a new reservoir planned for south of Lake Okeechobee in Reed's honor. He said the move would be a "fitting tribute" to Reed, who Nelson said worked to help make the project happen.

Read More: Nat Reed writes about his life and family legacy on exclusive Jupiter Island

"He never earned a salary. He never took money," Adrian Reed said Wednesday of his father. "All of his efforts for the environment and the Everglades, it was love. And he considered it a duty."

Friends and colleagues Wednesday remembered Reed as gregarious, generous and influential. He was a prolific writer of letters to politicians and power-players, fighting always to preserve and restore natural resources. 

Maggy Hurchalla, a fellow Martin County environmentalist who knew Reed for 50 years, said he was influential because he knew the science of the environment and could tell a story.  And, she said, he never backed down from a fight. 

“No one ignored Nat,” Hurchalla said. “They sometimes violently disagreed with him, but they never ignored him.” 

Things taken for granted today — the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act — are part of Reed’s legacy, said Eric Eikenberg, an 18-year friend of Reed’s and chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, which Reed helped found and on whose board he served for 25 years.

“He knew how to navigate the halls of power,” Eikenberg said. “From Gov. Claude Kirk to presidents Nixon and Ford, they relied on Nathaniel Reed for his guidance.”

Joanne Davis, a former Palm Beach County representative for 1000 Friends of Florida, said Reed was a fighter with a sharp wit, yet was also kind and someone she considered a father figure. 

Reed founded 1000 Friends of Florida to advocate for better planning and controlled growth in Florida. 

“If I needed help with something, or if I needed to ask a question, I could call him up and say ‘Hey Nat, what do you think of this?’ ” Davis said. “He’s one of the greats.”

Reed was “a giant of a conservationist, with his fingerprints on many of the most significant national conservation accomplishments of the last 60 years,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell said. “Florida and our Everglades were fortunate to have his heart and his talents, both of which he committed fully to making our state better.”

Reed "was a resolute force of nature who devoted his life to protecting the environment of Florida and the United States," Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said in a prepared statement. "His prominent standing in the modern history of Florida is secure and irreplaceable."

Jupiter Island has been called, pound for pound, the wealthiest community in America. Broadway producer and diplomat Joseph Verner Reed used much of his oil and mining fortune to buy most of Jupiter Island in 1931, Reed wrote in 2011 in his coffee-table book "A Different Vision: The History of the Hobe Sound Company and the Jupiter Island Club."

The island hosted several generations of the Bush political dynasty and Theodore Roosevelt's last surviving son, Archibald. During World War II, the island and the club were destinations, far from the nosy press, for members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's cabinet and other leaders. 

When the war ended, it was Reed and his family who persuaded the Florida Legislature to turn the shut-down Camp Murphy base and its 11,000 acres into Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Joseph Reed died at 71 in 1973, but not before giving Florida Audubon the northernmost portion of the island, which is now the island portion of the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. Permelia Pryor Reed continued as an society institution on the enclave until her death in 1994.

Nat Reed graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.,  in 1955, then served in Air Force military intelligence in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. 

Already he was developing a passion for the environment.

In 1960, he met Arthur R. Marshall, the biologist, naturalist, lecturer, writer and philosopher who is hailed as the father of Florida’s environmental movement. The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is named for him.

And Reed would treasure among his favorite books Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ groundbreaking “Everglades: River of Grass.” He once told The Palm Beach Post it was “absolutely damn near poetry.”

In 1967, Republican Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr. appointed Reed as his environmental counsel, the first such position in the nation. Early in his term, Kirk created a statewide environmental protection agency and killed the Cross-Florida Barge Canal

In helping create the Big Cypress preserve, Reed also helped kill would would have been the world’s biggest jetport, a sprawling complex envisioned for the middle of the Everglades.

Would the Big Cypress have happened “if the propaganda for developing the site into a major supersonic jetport had not raised the environmental issues at a time in our nation’s history when environmental issues were national news?” Nat Reed asked in a recent essay. “The answer is an emphatic ‘No.’ ”

At the federal Department of the Interior, Reed closed dumps at Yellowstone National Park to discourage grizzly bears, helping to increase the park's population. He also shepherded the Endangered Species Act through the Senate and the House and was instrumental in the passage of the Clean Water Act.

Later, he sat for 14 years on the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District. 

Reed is survived by his wife Alita, sons Nathaniel Jr. of Earlysville, Va., and Adrian of Hobe Sound and daughter Lia Bohannon of Hobe Sound.

Adrian Reed said the family had not yet firmed up funeral details.


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