On Thursday, I received word I lost my friend Donnie Reid. It is a sad day for Wade Shows and a great personal loss for me.
I wanted to share with you some of Donnie's life and what he meant to us because he was one of those very special individuals that have an enormous impact on our lives and businesses yet never shine the spotlight on themselves.
I could tell you about how Donnie served Wade Shows in many capacities
About how he was my partner in rides
About how he was the general manager of our 2nd unit for many years
Or about how he took on the Herculean effort of moving three carnival units across 14 states in his role as transpor
In most cases, these efforts would mark a person's life, define who they were. In Donnie's case, they were dwarfed by the most important part of him; the man he was and his effect on others.
Donnie had an uncanny ability to take people under his wing, mentor them and somehow bring out the best in them. He never gave up on people and they, in turn, never gave up on him.
For those of you that know me, you can imagine how I would become impatient with an underperforming employee and be ready to have them move on. Donnie would somehow see potential in these people, find something there that I never saw, and draw it out of them, transforming them into a valued team member. I marveled at his ability to do this time and time again over the years.
Donnie was the rare person who was liked by everyone. A stranger was a friend he hadn't met yet as the saying goes.
Donnie's house on the water was a sort of gathering place for Wade Shows management and staff. Donnie and his incredibly supportive wife Peggy, would host my family and I for dinner almost every night in the winter before I moved to the Tampa area. He would invite people over who would in turn invite others to join them. Peggy welcomed the whole group, no matter how large, with open arms.
Make no mistake, Donnie was a skilled leader, but he did so from the middle of the pack and he did it quietly,very effectively and with great humility.
While I was out front leading the charge, Donnie had my back, rallying the troops and positioning them with grace and efficiency for the ambitious tasks I had laid out.
Another of Donnie's great traits is that he always told the truth, even if it reflected poorly on him or even the people he loved.
I don't know much about mechanics, but I knew I could go to Donnie when others might be recommending a new purchase or a costly repair. He would always give me a straight answer that served the company's best interest. "Frank I think we can fix this" he would say or he would let me know a new part was our best alternative. In either case, I knew I could count on his judgement.
In the first few years of Donnie's employment with the show, he took a spectacular ride I was ready to junk on the advice of some of my staff and turned it into the best rides on the show at the time. After a quarter century, the Polar Express is still one of my top rides and has made the show hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. Donnie was that type of guy.
Donnie was a third generation showman. His grandfather John Reid owned Happyland Shows and he was the patriarch of Michigan carnivals. John's sons Jerry (Donnie's father) and Bob took over the show but after a series of events, the show had to fold. Jerry and Donnie joined Arthur Lamkin with a Skee Ball and arcade and Jerry, a pilot, flew Lamkin's plane and helicopter.
In 1983, my 3rd year of owning Wade Shows, Jerry came over in a management capacity. I immediately saw great potential in Donnie but the Reids left after a year to go to Arnold Amusements. The following year, Donnie came back as partner in the Polar Express and he never left.
I used to kid Donnie about having bad genes. He had heart attack in the mid-2000s, his light skin led him to go to the dermatologist often to treat skin anomalies, he had high cholesterol and blood pressure as well as bouts with gout. Through it all, he never complained and worked each day with 100% effort.
Last year, the cancer came on quick. He was having trouble keeping food down at the Oklahoma State Fair but told me it was just "indigestion". As I went east and he stayed with the other unit, I got reports that he was losing weight and getting sick often. His wife and friends urged him to go home, but Donnie being Donnie, he stayed on through the end of the season.
At home, he went to the Moffett Center and they found a massive tumor near his esophagus that was causing his inability to keep food down. Unfortunately, the tumor had metastasized, spreading throughout his body but Donnie underwent chemo treatments in a last ditch effort to save himself.
Donnie still came to winterquarters 2-3 times a week during his treatments to oversee the building of a new office. He also came to the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach but had to stay inside his trailer. I talked by phone with Donnie in Tampa where we were undertaking our most ambitious project yet with the Florida State Fair midway. I was hoping he was well enough to make the trip to Tampa so I could give him a tour of all we had done and show him how his efforts over the years were essential to us being able to do what we did in Tampa.
Unfortunately, his health did not permit him to make the trip.
Donnie was selfless to the end, putting his heart and soul into Wade Shows, the employees he mentored and his friends and family. His wife Peggy and family continue to work on the show, carrying on his legacy.
All of us at Wade Shows and our extended family owe him a great debt of gratitude His life had an enormous positive impact on a countless number of people and I put myself at the top of that list.
Rest in Peace Donnie