Pearland Mayor Emeritus Tom Reid's legacy: Dedication to partnerships, education
Before 2004, then-University of Houston-Clear Lake President William A. Staples said he had never even met Tom Reid, but an out-of-the-blue phone call from Reid, who was then mayor of Pearland, followed by an invitation to drive around the city in a Chevy Suburban, forever changed the course of history for UH-Clear Lake and the residents of Pearland.
“Mayor Reid called University of Houston System Chancellor Jay Gogue and then me at UHCL and said we should come to Pearland and visit,” said Staples, who became UHCL President Emeritus upon his retirement in 2017. “We brought along Ed Hugetz, who was associate vice chancellor at University of Houston at the time. Mayor Reid said he wanted to show us his city. So, he piled us all in his Chevy Suburban and drove us all around Pearland, finally making a stop at Pearland Parkway.”
Staples said that’s when Reid turned to the others in the Suburban and said that this piece of land on Pearland Parkway belonged to the city, and that it would be a great place to build a UHCL facility.
“He told us how much he would love to have a part of UH in the community,” he said.
After that, Staples remembered, there were many, many meetings and discussions over the course of the next six years about moving forward with a plan to build a UHCL location in Pearland.
“It was all Tom Reid’s vision,” he said. “I would consider him a visionary leader. There aren’t many of them around. He would always say, we are building the city. That was always his theme, even in his annual State of the City address to the Chamber of Commerce. It was always the same—he’d say we were building the city.”
Over the next decades, Staples said that he and Reid developed a close partnership and friendship. “In the end, we got the plan for a UHCL Pearland location approved by UH System and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,” he said. “But we didn’t have the money to buy the land or build the building. With the vision and support of the mayor, we got the land, they built the building, we leased it, and eventually we owned it.”
Without Reid, Staples said, none of it would have happened. UHCL Pearland opened its doors in fall 2010. In 2017, the UHCL Pearland campus broke ground on a $24.6 million Health Sciences and Classroom Building.
“Without him and his leadership, and the support of the Pearland City Council, we would not have this. They all worked hand in hand with the city manager, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Pearland Economic Development Corporation,” he said. “That’s what makes our Pearland campus the result of a true partnership. Mayor Reid led this effort and carried out the idea of a partnership-oriented, community-minded university focused on student success. He brought together all these entities and made it what it is.”
Staples added that they had received significant legislative support from (now former) Texas State Senator Larry Taylor, and Texas State Representatives Ed Thompson, Dennis Paul and Greg Bonnen.
“This was a man who truly built Pearland,” Staples said. “Now, with UHCL’s 50th anniversary coming up, Mayor Reid’s legacy is impacting the city and will continue to do so, 50 years and beyond. When you have built good educational resources into a city, a lot of students will stay local to go to school and then they will stay local when they are done. It’s a very big factor in creating an educated work force; it keeps the population in the community to better it.”
Kevin Cole, who succeeded Reid as Pearland’s mayor in 2020, said that Reid laid the foundation for that to happen.
“He talked about his hope that programs would expand at UHCL Pearland, and that there was more land that the university could build and expand on,” he said.
“As UHCL’s 50th approaches, he would talk about more opportunities for everyone to learn locally without needing to commute,” Cole continued. “He thought getting a good education locally was a quality of life issue in Pearland. If you don’t have to leave just to get an education, that means your quality of life in your community is enhanced. If you have those opportunities, it will pay big dividends for the community.”
His legacy, said Cole, is that a community can do big things if it works together. “Tom Reid had great relationships with people, especially with Bill Staples. Over time, that helped him do bigger and better things, and the results can be seen on the campus,” he said. “Where there’s a desire and a commitment, you can make it happen.”
“We are still seeing the transformative results of Tom Reid’s commitment to higher education in Pearland,” said UHCL President Richard Walker. “Others only saw empty space in that location on Pearland Parkway, but Mayor Reid had a vision for what could be done there to enhance the lives of the citizens of Pearland. We will continue to honor that legacy and ensure it strengthens in depth and reach as we move to our 50th anniversary and beyond.”
Associate Vice President and Chief Operations Officer at UHCL Pearland Beth Lewis said that Mayor Emeritus Reid’s impact is still felt in the number of community events hosted at the Pearland location, the increased community partnerships being built, and in its participation with the Chamber of Commerce and Pearland Economic Development Corporation.
“He had a strong desire to have a university in Pearland,” she said. “He lived a life of service to others—first in the Navy, then at Johnson Space Center, then as a city council member, and finally as mayor. He felt that building opportunities for others was the highest form of service he could offer.”
Staples said it was among the highlights of his career to know him, become his friend, and see what could be accomplished from working together. Tom Reid served as Pearland’s mayor from 1973-1990, and again from 1993-2020. He died on June 24, 2023 at age 97.
For more information about UHCL's Pearland location, visit www.uhcl.edu/pearland/