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Obituary: Thomas Anderson "Doc" Reese

 

February 6, 2017

Thomas Anderson "Doc" Reese was born July 16, 1920, in Teresita, Missouri, and, as a result of "too many birthdays" died peacefully with his family around him Jan. 28, 2017, at the ripe old age of 96 years and 6 months.

Dad was named after Dr. Thomas Anderson, the physician who saved the lives of both mother and son following a difficult birth, and he was known as "Doc" from those early days. He was the second son of George Elijah and Myrtle (Culpepper) Reese. He grew up on the small family farm just outside Mountain View, Missouri, and spent his free time wandering through the woods and swimming and fishing in the Jack's Fork River of southern Missouri with his brother Wade. His dad died when he was 10 years old and as a result he and his older brother had to assume the duties as men of the house. He quit school after the eighth grade and went to work to help support his mom and siblings during the Great Depression.

Even at age 14 he was a big kid, so he was able to pass himself off as older than he actually was. He often talked about working for $2 or $3 per day and giving it to his mom to help out. He reminisced about working on a railroad track gang in Kansas when he was only 15 years old, but began feeling homesick (and later thought he may have had a bit of heatstroke), and decided to hitch a freight train home. He had no idea what direction to go to get home but he headed to the railyards where he encountered another young man on a boxcar, and they pooled their last coins to buy a loaf of bread and peanut butter. A railyard worker concerned for the boys' safety pointed him in the right direction, and after several days he had found his way home, so exhausted that his family found him asleep on the front porch.

Working odd jobs, including a stint with the Civilian Conservation Corp during which he helped build a road through Snake River Valley, he arrived in Montana around 1938 and worked in the sugarbeet fields around Chinook as a migrant worker. At Chinook's Grille Café he met and fell in love with Agnes Lemieux, daughter of Francis and Maria (DuBois) Lemieux, and Nov. 2, 1941, they were married and became partners in all things for the rest of their lives. Doc and Aggie settled in Havre in the early 1940's and were residents there until moving into assisted living facilities in Kalispell, Montana, in 2012.

Doc went to work for the Great Northern Railroad in 1942 and started a long career on the railroad by hand firing different coal and oil- fired locomotives, including the famous 2584 on display next to the Havre depot.

He was drafted into military service in 1945. He served in the US Army 170th Engineer Combat Battalion and was stationed in Inchon Harbor, South Korea, at the end of World War II. His overseas service allowed him to join the VFW, something he was very proud of. Fortunately, his job with the railroad was protected and, following an honorable discharge in 1946, he was able to return to his job and continue to support his growing family, eventually moving up to engineering.

He worked for the Great Northern and Burlington Northern Railroads for 38 years, retiring in 1980. He enjoyed 37 years of retirement so felt like he about broke even with them. Dad was considered by many other railroaders to be one of the finest engineers to ever run a train, and he took great pride in his knowledge of the equipment he controlled and of the "road" both east and west of Havre.

Throughout his life dad was an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman and loved being outdoors. He was also an accomplished guitar picker and enjoyed singing with Mom, his kids, Wade, and other musicians, and participated in many jam sessions where hymns and country-western were the usual choices. Quality time with his kids usually involved music, a fishing rod or a rifle and he could still out-fish any of us, even into his 90s. He really enjoyed picnics and "having a hot dog" in Beaver Creek Park and he and Mom made efforts to get the whole family out there often during the summer months.

Dad always had time for his kids and grandkids and maintained many friendships. Time and distance were never an issue with him if he thought someone could use his help. He especially helped his kids with their many projects and was always eager to jump in with advice, expertise or brute force to help get the task at hand accomplished. His can-do attitude, his approach to helping others, sharing his good fortune and doing the right thing the right way are reflected in the values his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren share with their families. When we hear talk of "the greatest generation," we feel a personal pride in our parents.

Mom passed away in September of 2015, leaving a terrible hole in his life, but he toughed it out through the loneliness for another 18 months, dedicated to keeping his family close. His final contribution was the display of grace and dignity he showed in the face of the inevitable.

Doc was preceded in death by Agnes, his wife and partner of 75 years, his parents, George and Myrtle; four sisters and two brothers.

He is survived by a sister, Selma "Dood" Hamer of Eminence, Missouri, sisters-in-law Edna Reese of Chester, Lauriena Curtiss of Greybull, Wyoming, and Nona Lemieux of Klamath Falls, Oregon. Also surviving are his eight children, Linda ("Mick") Miller, Green Valley, Arizona; Laverne Miller, Missoula, Montana; Wini (Karl) Apple, Helena, Montana; Donna (Hank) Tweeten, Havre, Montana; Dallas Reese, Helena, Montana; Gary Reese, Columbia Falls, Montana; Roberta Reese, Kalispell, Montana, and Dennis Reese, Havre, Montana. Doc is also survived by 13 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren.

In lieu of memorials or flowers, take your kids or grandkids fishing.

 

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