Clyde Reese, served Georgians in many roles, dies at 64

The early 2000′s were a frustrating time for Howard Holman, the Senior Vice President of then-Meadows Memorial Medical Center in Vidalia.

He the knew the hospital needed a cardiac catheterization lab. Patients needing the procedure were driving long distances to Savannah, Macon or Augusta.

But the state Department of Community Health turned down the request, opining that the numbers wouldn’t justify it. His own consultant told him he should give up.

Then Clyde Reese, who was working for the DCH, got involved and took a fresh look at the numbers and greenlighted the project.

The now-retired Holman says, “Clyde took a walk on the wild side and gave us our cath lab, and the numbers have clearly justified it over the past 20 years. I don’t know how many peoples’ lives have been changed or saved because of that cath lab.” Easily thousands, he said.

Reese, the future state Court of Appeals judge, became a change agent early. He and two cousins were among the first students to integrate Atlanta’s Pace Academy in 1969, stepping into a school which had been viewed as a segregationist, white-flight institution. He graduated in 1976 and attended Georgia State University and Mercer University School of Law.

Reese evolved into a broad and deep influencer and doer in a decades-long career that included real estate and private legal practice before taking a state post. He rose through the ranks of state government, heading up the state Department of Human Services and the Department of Community Health and finally, serving as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

His was a varied career, but one strongly linked by a caring for his fellow Georgians, said those close to him. That came to encompass championing the cause of improving rural health care quality and services to the point of helping financially prop up struggling hospitals.

“He really had a servant’s heart and always wanted to do the right thing,” said Chris Riley, who served as the former governor Nathan Deal’s chief of staff. He noted that Deal, impressed by Reese’s skill set and hard work, promoted him multiple times, eventually to the judgeship.

Clyde L. Reese III, born Dec. 8, 1958, in Florence, South Carolina, died unexpectedly Dec. 17 from causes not specified by his family.

As head of the Department of Community Health, he deftly negotiated with insurance companies and hospitals when the state health benefit plan contract came up for renewal.

“We had three or four of those where we had to negotiate right down the wire, but we had no lapse in care,” said Riley. The health plan negotiations were challenging and sensitive, and Reese negotiated those waters beautifully, he said.

“I think he was always motivated by wanting to serve others,” said daughter Chelsea Harvey, “And I think whatever opportunity that came along that allowed him to do that is what he took.”

State Rep. and House Appropriations Committee Chair Terry England, whose passion for improving rural health care matches Reese’s, worked with him on long-term projects, such as making sure that all ambulances in the state could connect to broadband.

There were also sudden crises to deal with.

“He or I would get a call saying X hospital in rural Georgia was on the ropes and they don’t have enough money to make payroll, can you help? Clyde would jump in with both feet and we’d do what we could,” England said,

Reese also took a deep dive while Department of Human Services commissioner, overseeing a major project computerizing the department’s paper records.

Court colleagues say that his knowledge of the law coupled with fact-finding, deliberative and administrative skills served him well in six years as a state appellate judge.

Chief Judge Brian Rickman indicated the budgeting skills Reese learned heading two major state agencies carried over as he took the position as budget chief for the appeals court.

“I joked with him when I asked him to be budget chief, saying, ‘You’ve managed more money in a couple of years as (DHS) commissioner than we have in a decade.’”

His written opinions were lauded for their straightforward tone.

Rickman said if the court was having a meeting to handle the business of the 15 judges and something difficult or controversial might come up, he’d say nothing at that moment.