If you were chatting with Jerry Reel before a meeting, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to lean over, his eyes sparkling, and share some odd bit of knowledge with you such as, “Did you know that today is St. Columba’s Day? He’s the patron saint of bookbinders and poets.” He’s a veritable font of information about any number of things, about which he can usually spin a yarn that will captivate you, amuse you and educate you along the way. And when it comes to the history of Clemson University, he can claim the title as resident expert. In 2003, the University recognized that and named him University Historian. In that role, he has written two volumes of history about the institution, the latest of which was published this spring. For decades, students filled his “History 101 – History of Clemson” course in which he indoctrinated generations with stories of the families who founded the University and the leaders who presided over it.
It’s not often that we designate a living person as a landmark or legend. But Jerry Reel just begs to be both. Sometimes referred to as the “Oak Tree of Clemson,” Reel joined the faculty in 1963 while he was still finishing up his Ph.D. in history at Emory University. He was the second professor named an Alumni Master Teacher, and in addition to being a faculty member, served as dean of undergraduate studies and senior vice provost. He directed four inaugurations as well as the Clemson Centennial, witnessing five decades of traditions and transitions. And in 2000, Clemson named him an honorary alumnus.
A native of New Orleans (of which he is justifiably proud), Reel is married to Edmee M ’82, who he will tell you that he met for the first time when she was two years old, running through the backyard, “naked as a jaybird.” The two of them have raised three children (all Clemson alums) and have advised and encouraged 50 years worth of Clemson students.