Remembering Marvin Reed: Perfecting the Princeton Lifestyle (Princeton Magazine August 2011)

A VISIT WITH MARVIN AND INGRID REED

by LINDA ARNTZENIUS • photography by BENOIT CORTET

 

Ostensibly in retirement, former Borough Mayor Marvin Reed and Eagleton Institute policy analyst Ingrid Reed are enjoying more travel time. But it’s not what you might imagine: long lazy days by a lagoon with a fat novel and a tall drink. The Reeds travel with purpose. Years of dedication to civic betterment have formed a habit that is hard to shake. Princeton and New Jersey are never far from their thoughts.

Interviewed in their Queenstown Commons townhome, the prominent Princeton couple had just returned from a two-week road trip to the 19th annual Congress for the New Urbanism in Madison, Wisconsin and were bursting with details, especially of their detours en route, prompted by a shared passion for urban planning and architecture as well as their respective interests in women’s rights and Shakespeare.

Besides a love affair with each other—the couple married one year and one day after connecting at a Christmas Party in 1958— the Reeds have long been engaged in a love affair with towns and cities. Much like their relationship, their travels are full of exploration and discovery.



Having set out for Wisconsin, they found their most recent trip evolving into much more. Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Taliesin, just an hour north of Madison, was a must see. Since one of Ingrid’s three sisters lives in Michigan, why not visit and scout out further examples of Wright’s work there? And while they were on the road, why not take in the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, something Ingrid had long wanted to see. Since that would bring them close to Canada, why not satisfy Marvin’s interest in Stratford, Ontario where Shakespeare’s Richard III, the play he had stage-managed as a Rutgers student, was being performed. Who could pass on Niagara Falls? But how many people go out of their way to visit downtown Buffalo? True to form, the Reeds did more than eat lunch there. They discovered the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed cemetery and visited the Art Deco masterpiece that is Buffalo City Hall.

None of this is as arbitrary as it sounds. The Reeds’ travels combine careful planning and openness to the unexpected. “We are adventurous and risk averse at the same time,” laughs Ingrid.

A spirit of adventure sparked an instant connection between Marvin Reed and Ingrid Wagner, as she then was, at that 1958 party. Growing up Vineland, N.J., where their families got together every Christmas, they had much in common: they went to the same high school, though at different times (she’s four and a half years younger than Marvin and he graduated early at 16) and each was the first of their family to go to university. But this time Ingrid was just back from a three-month trip to Europe and had fascinating tales to tell. Marvin was hungry for every detail.

A graduate of University of Pennsylvania, Ingrid was about to get a job in New York City. Having graduated from Rutgers, Marvin was working for the NJEA (New Jersey Education Association) and enrolled in graduate school at NYU. Both were branching out into new worlds. “We both had the same kind of breakthrough experiences,” said Marvin: “It was a big deal for me to get a job in Trenton. It was a big deal for Ingrid to go to the University of Pennsylvania and to get a job in New York City.”
Ingrid was just as impressed: “Marvin had been out there, he’d taken a group of teachers to Mexico, and was juggling work with graduate study in the new field of communications, studying with people who were inventing it.” When Marvin suggested she travel all the way down to NYU to meet him for coffee, she didn’t hesitate. For over fifty years, they’ve shared a profound commitment to civic betterment, to democracy, to Princeton and to New Jersey. “We both have an innate optimism,” says Ingrid. “We travel with the same approach we apply to our jobs, think carefully first and then make decisions. In terms of our current interests we are activists but carefully considered activists.”

Although retired from his own public relations business, Princeton Media Associates, former Mayor Marvin Reed continues to serve on the Princeton Regional Planning Board and the Borough’s Non-Profit Housing and Redevelopment Corporation. Senate President Richard Cody named him to the newly created Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission that encourages shared services and mergers among New Jersey’s 566 municipalities. He also chairs the Redevelopment Task Force for New Jersey Future, the statewide citizens group that supports the State’s Smart Growth initiative.

Having retired last year after 15 years as director of the New Jersey Project at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers where she organized numerous studies of New Jersey issues, Ingrid Reed continues with volunteer and professional interests in planning, governance, ethics and election issues. She’s a senior fellow at New Jersey Future and chairs the board of NJSpotlight.com, the web site that focuses on policy issues critical to the state and its communities. She’s also on boards of the Princeton Adult School, the Princeton Symphony and Womanspace. In 2009-2010, she chaired the Governor’s Task Force on Local Government Ethics whose recommendations were filed with Governor Christie last October.

Because of their shared interests, the couple has attended the Congress on the New Urbanism for the past dozen years. “Each of us finds it satisfying for what we are interested in, the work I do in Trenton and Marvin in his role as Borough Mayor working to revitalize downtown Princeton around the new library, parking garage and so on,” says Ingrid.

For the Reeds, place of residence: town, county, or state, is not simply home, it’s a work-in-progress, thoughts about which are ever present. “Marv always has to take a picture of the latest trash can,” laughs Ingrid, who is also on the look-out for ideas of benefit to the city of Trenton. In downtown Buffalo it was a new light rail system; in Lansing, a new city market. “Immediately I was taking pictures to bring back to Princeton,” says Marvin. “And Lansing’s new Riverwalk has implications for Trenton and the Delaware,” adds Ingrid. In Chicago, the bustling Millennium Park with its innovative design, Frank Gehry bridge, and modern sculpture prompted thoughts of Princeton’s Hinds Plaza, albeit on a grander scale.

Marvin spearheaded plans for the new shops, apartments, and parking that were built next to the new Princeton Public Library. From 1996 to 2001, he was president of Downtown New Jersey, Inc., a group of professional planners and public officials advocating redevelopment of traditional urban and town centers. He served as Borough Mayor for over 13 years. Ingrid Reed, a policy analyst, has held positions at The Rockefeller University in New York City and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

HAVE INTERNET WILL TRAVEL

Traveling though Ohio, the Reeds stopped off at the little town of Sandusky where boats bobbed in the harbor and they searched for a spot near the lake to enjoy a picnic lunch. In Pennsylvania they took in Wright’s Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob and lodged at the old-fashioned mountain-top resort, the Summit Inn.
On the road they used their laptops to research and book hotels and B&Bs, a departure from their customary European trips where they usually rent an apartment as a base from which to explore, visit historic sites, town halls, civic centers, check out what’s new. “Have Internet Will Travel” might well be their slogan and they take full advantage of immediate access to what’s going on around town.

As Marvin points out, their traveling is rarely of the straightforward tourist variety: “When I retired after thirty years with the NJEA, I was still relatively young [it’s hard to believe that Marvin celebrated his 80th birthday this year]. Ingrid had a Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship from 1984 to 1987 and the opportunity for extensive foreign travel. Together we planned a round-the-world trip to India, Singapore, Asia, Indonesia. At the UN Decade of Women Conference in Kenya, Ingrid met women applying entrepreneurism to non-profits, a subject that interested her in terms of public policies supporting non-profits and ways in which the public sector might be more entrepreneurial in delivering its services.”

Before moving to an apartment on Ewing Street in 1974, the couple lived on Glenacres from 1961. Ingrid had run for office in West Windsor. After the move, she got involved in Princeton politics in 1979 as co-chair of the Borough campaign for consolidation. “We lost by only 33 votes and people forget how close it was back then,” says Ingrid, who hopes that Princeton will finally see itself as one undivided community. By this time the Reeds had moved to Maple Street, where they lived for 24 years. When her husband got involved on the Borough Council, Ingrid felt that she shouldn’t be involved too: “I feel very strongly that the most important job of an elected or appointed official is the freedom to evaluate and get rid of a person if he or she isn’t doing a good job. There is an inherent conflict of interest if Marv were mayor and I were on the planning board or even on a non-profit organization. A mayor should have complete freedom to evaluate performance otherwise one isn’t being faithful to one’s constituency. We talk a lot about what goes on in Princeton, but I don’t get involved.”

In 1998, with their two children, David and Lisa grown and living in California and Massachusetts respectively, the Reeds sold their home on Maple Street and moved to their current residence. The townhome has a distinctly European feel: open plan with lots of built-ins and lots of light, a living room with a small balcony overlooking a leafy stream. The walls show a fine collection of contemporary work by Princeton area artists. They love being able to walk into town and having room for family get-togethers with granddaughters, Cecilia, Jacquelyn, and Agnes-Marie, and grandson, Owen.

As much as they have in common, there are marked differences between them. “Marv is more of an introvert, he’ll do things without telling me whereas I have to blab about everything,” says Ingrid. For his part, he gets frustrated that Ingrid can’t seem to remember directions. “Whenever we come up out of our subway station in New York,” says Marvin, “I still have to tell her which direction we have to take. I don’t understand what accounts for this difference but it’s there and we joke about it, laugh it off. I’ve seen other couples who get bothered by such trivial things but we both have a certain level of toleration,” Marvin comments.

Giving each other space is important in this long and successful marriage. “I think there’s too much emphasis put on togetherness,” he says. “There are times when you do and times when you don’t and that’s okay.” “Marv is good at computer stuff, I’m not,” says Ingrid. “Sometimes we have a difference of opinion. He’s a real laid back guy, and we’ve been able to maintain the balance between partnership and individuality.”

“Some professionals in the planning business create couples partnerships,” says Marvin, “we’ve never quite functioned that way. Of course, we bounce ideas off one another, but we always have our separate realms, our separate projects. Ingrid’s done a lot of work in Trenton that I’m interested in but that’s not what I do. I’ve done a lot in Princeton that Ingrid is interested in that, but that’s not what she does.”

In spite of busy schedules, the couple makes a point of always having breakfast together. “Even when I worked in New York for four years during the time that Marv was mayor and I lived there during the week, we used to call each other every day at 7:30AM That was really important and we still do that if one of us is away,” says Ingrid.
“Nowadays we try to mesh our schedules but we don’t always make that work,” laughs Marvin. To keep control of their busy theater and opera going, Marvin presides over a folder of tickets for their various subscription series. Just as they will go out of their way to see a particular work of architecture, they are self-confessed opera groupies when it comes to stars such as the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila (who famously performed the title role in Strauss’s Salome in a new production by Jürgen Flimm at The Metropolitan Opera in 2008), or baritone Nathan Gunn. Gerald Finley, the Canadian bass-baritone who sang J. Robert Oppenheimer in Dr. Atomic and who was in a recent Metropolitan Opera production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande is another favorite. They attend The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera and local theater and opera in Princeton.

MANHATTAN PIED-À-TERRE

To facilitate their frequent visits to the city and the Lincoln Center, the Reeds, together with longtime Princeton friends Ruth and former Township Mayor Bernie Miller, bought a studio apartment in Manhattan in 2003. The joint purchase came about shortly after Marvin stopped being Mayor. Ruth Miller asked Ingrid how he was doing and rather fed up with giving the stock response of “fine,” Ingrid gave the more detailed response that Marv was looking at apartments in Manhattan. Ruth immediately suggested they get an apartment together. At first Ingrid thought it was just a comment but Ruth got organized and before long the four friends were on a weekend visit to NYC looking at condominiums. Ingrid remained skeptical until she discovered that the two couples shared values, wanted to spend the same kind of money, and would use the apartment in the same kind of way. Within three months they’d found a studio on West 72nd Street (convenient for theater, ballet and Penn Station) and brought in a Murphy bed and new furniture from IKEA. The arrangement is well organized: records are kept, costs shared equally, and each couple has the apartment every other weekend. A tell-all article by Penelope Green was published in The New York Times, in December 2003. “Our friends in Princeton were reticent to ask for details so we put it all out there,” says Ingrid. The 2003 article records the cost of the apartment as $319,000 (with a monthly mortgage payment $1,096.88 on a $234,000 loan) and $711.29 in monthly common charges and taxes.

Besides frequent visits to Manhattan, the Reeds’ favorite place to go is St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, now a national park. In 1966, the Reeds were among the first to camp on Cinnamon Bay. Back then, there wasn’t a paved road on the island, no car rentals unless you found someone willing to rent you their own jeep, and practically the only food came in cans, but the Reeds had a wonderful time and have been returning ever since. For the past 25 years they’ve rented a house there. In 2009, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on the island and were back again this March. But in spite of the cold New Jersey winters, the Reeds have no plans to become snowbirds, although at some point they plan to move from their current home to the Stonebridge retirement community.

Right now, however, they are planning their next trip, somewhat similar to last year’s stay in Rome, only this year they are headed to Barcelona, where they will rent an apartment and make day trips. It goes without saying that Bilbao and the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum will be on the itinerary. And, since it’s so close, just a hop, skip, and jump across the Pyrénées and the French border, Toulouse has to be a must see. One other thing that’s for sure. The Reeds will return with lots of ideas for the Princeton of the Future.