Tom Reed

Cold Warrior

Thomas C. Reed died February 11, 2024, at his home in Santa Rosa. California, age 89 after a short illness surrounded by his family,

            Reed whose illustrious career as a former Secretary of the Air Force, longtime advisor to President Ronald Reagan, senior National Security Council official, real estate developer and author was born in New York City on March 1, 1934. He was raised in Connecticut, graduated from Cornell University in 1956 with a degree in engineering and accepted an ROTC commission into the US Air Force. He began his professional career at the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division in Los Angeles during the 1950s, the years of Sputnik and the Missile Gap.

After earning a graduate degree from the University of Southern California, Reed moved to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he designed two thermonuclear devices fired over the Pacific in 1962.  On leaving Livermore, Reed started and ran a successful high-tech company making superconductors, but he also developed an interest in politics.  In 1966 Reed became the Northern California chair of Ronald Reagan’s initial gubernatorial race.  He served as chief of personnel in the Governor’s first administration and then, in 1970, as Reagan’s statewide co-chair and re-election campaign director and remained committed to seeing Ronald Reagan become President of the United States.

During the seventies, Reed’s business interests turned to the land: developing the Breckenridge ski resort in Colorado and founding River Oaks Vineyards in Alexander Valley. That, in turn, led to the creation of Clos du Bois Wines in 1973.

In 1973 Reed was recruited to manage certain intelligence projects at the Pentagon in connection with the Yom Kippur War then raging in the Mideast. In 1975, the US Senate confirmed Reed’s appointment as Secretary of the Air Force. He served for two years in that capacity during the Ford and Carter administrations.  He was the first Secretary of the Air Force to have served in the Air Force.

In 1976 Reed became Director of the once-covert National Reconnaissance Office, responsible for all US satellite intelligence systems, both photographic and electronic, in operation during the Cold War.

During the eighties, Reed worked within Reagan’s NSC staff as Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Policy.  Reed’s primary contribution lay in charting Reagan’s road map for prevailing in and ending the Cold War.

Reed left Washington in 1983 to return to business pursuits, but throughout the years of Soviet collapse, Reed continued to advise the Joint Strategic Planning Staff on policy and intelligence matters.

During the nineties Reed traveled to Ukraine, assisting with the return of over a thousand abandoned nuclear weapons to Russian control.

With the coming of the millennium, Reed turned his attention to documenting the history of the Cold War and its principal players along with illuminating the possibility of nuclear terror to come.

His first book, At the Abyss: An Insider’s History of the Cold War with an introduction by Former President George H. W. Bush, was published by Ballantine Books in 2004.  It delves into the lives of those who fought and ended the Cold War without a nuclear shot being fired.

His second work, The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation was co-authored by Danny Stillman, former chief of technical intelligence at Los Alamos. It was published by Zenith Press in 2009, with a favorable review by William J. Broad, science editor of the New York Times.

In his third manuscript, Reed turned to history-based fiction with The Tehran Triangle, written with Sandy Baker and published by Black Garnet Press in 2012.  James Schlesinger, former chairman of the AEC, director of central intelligence, secretary of defense and then secretary of energy, wrote that, “The Tehran Triangle is a harrowing tale about Iran’s quest for the bomb. The story feels real; it could have been written by an intelligence insider and a nuclear weapons expert. And it was.”

Reed’s most recent volume, The Reagan Enigma, was published by USC’s Figueroa Press in 2014.  Enigma provides first-hand insight into the mind of the 40th president as he sought to end the Cold War.  Reagan Press Secretary Lyn Nofziger noted that, “On times, people,…-Tom Reed would be the most accurate.”

Reed’s later-year interests were focused on education, trying to find and support the brightest and the best students, the potential innovators and leaders, in Sonoma County.

Reed is survived by his wife Kay, his daughter Carolyn Reed Ellis of Napa, his oldest son Gordon and wife Kerry, now resident in Buffalo, and his youngest child, son Andrew now residing with his wife Alex in west Santa Rosa.  Reed is also survived by five grandchildren and two step grandsons.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Healdsburg Rotary’s scholarship fund.

A celebration of life will be scheduled later this year.