Remembering the Old Man

What follows is a brief biography and remembrance of the man we honor today, written by one of his sons.



Joseph H. Ream was born on 5 October 1903 in Bedford, a small town in southwestern Iowa. He was the youngest of seven children of Theodore Jackson Ream and Cassandra Hanes. T. J. Ream was a Methodist minister who moved every few years from one church to another in rural Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio.


When Joe Ream was five, Reverend Ream was appointed the Methodist church's district superintendent in Topeka, Kansas. This was the family's final move; the Reams put down roots in Topeka, and Joe's parents lived there for the rest of their lives. Joe always considered Topeka to be his "home town."


Joe went through the public school system in Topeka. He entered Kansas University in 1921, majoring in economics and graduating in 1925. He won a varsity "K" in cross-country running, and was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Right after graduation, he traveled east to Yale Law School, from which he graduated in 1927. For the next seven years, Joe practiced law with the Wall Street firm now known as Cravath, Swaine & Moore; two of those years were in Cravath's Paris office.


While at Cravath, Joe did a substantial amount of legal work for a young but growing radio company called the Columbia Broadcasting System. In 1934, he joined CBS as its first in-house lawyer. For the next eighteen years, he climbed the CBS ladder in New York City into increasingly important management positions, becoming Executive Vice President and a member of the Board of Directors in 1947. His particular areas of responsibility included CBS's relations with its owned and affiliated radio stations throughout the nation, negotiation of contracts and other dealings with performers and CBS employees, representing CBS before governmental bodies such as the Federal Communications Commission, and general legal advice. He also played a role in developing the "loyalty oaths" that were common in the broadcasting industry during the Cold War anti-Communist era around 1950.


Joe Ream married Anita Biggs in 1929. She also was the child of a Protestant minister from the Midwest, a music teacher who, like Joe, had come east to enjoy the excitement and opportunities of New York City in the 1920s. They spent the first couple of years of their marriage in Paris. Back home, they had five children: Jackson (born in 1932); Stephen (1934); Davidson (1937); Nancy (1940); and Christopher (1942). During the CBS years, the family homes were successively on Staten Island, in Ossining, New York, and in Millstone and Princeton, New Jersey.


Joe "retired" voluntarily from CBS in 1952, and moved the family to Tallahassee, Florida. Why did he decide to leave a high-level position in the corporate world at age 48, probably in the prime of his business career? The mixture of reasons would include the failing health of his wife and a desire to spend more of his time with her, a long-standing ambition to be a full-time farmer/rancher, and an increasing disenchantment with the fast-paced and high-pressure atmosphere of CBS and New York.


Joe established a 628-acre beef cattle ranch near Tallahassee on abandoned and overgrown land. He did all the work himself, with some assistance from his sons. The project included clearing the land, planting and nurturing pastures, selecting and tending to livestock, building barns, corrals, and fences-and lots of hard physical labor. It was the sort of vigorous activity that he truly loved.


After Anita Ream's death in 1955, and with the completion of the project to develop the ranch and the departure of his children for their own school and business pursuits, Joe became a bit restless and bored. Thus, he was receptive to the overtures of the National Security Agency in 1956, eventually agreeing to be the agency's Deputy Director.


He left NSA late in 1957 to rejoin CBS as the vice president in charge of the company's Washington office, a position involving lobbying and hobnobbing with government leaders. Two years later, CBS transferred him to New York, where he organized and was the first director of the Program Practices division. The new division was a response to the intense public criticism stemming from the TV "quiz show scandals." Joe's office was charged with ensuring that all programming was on a level that was at least "honest" and not misleading to the viewing public. He retired from CBS for good in 1965, on his sixty-second birthday.


Joe spent the remaining 22 years of his life enjoying himself. He traveled the world and visited frequently with his children and grandchildren. He built and lived in rustic cabins in the backwoods of New York State and Northern California. 'He also had homes in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Fairhope, Alabama. He remarried, and his widow Barbara is still in Fairhope.


Joe's five children (including Steve, who died in 1979), have all had happy and prosperous lives, thanks at least in part to his role model and insistence on higher education attainment, hard work and dedication in a field of endeavor one enjoys, and pride in self and family. They produced eleven grandchildren, all of whom are now adults and college graduates. There are, at last count, nine great-grandchildren.


While this narrative refers to him as "Joe," it bears mentioning that he was always known to his family as the "Old Man." This label, whose use he encouraged, was not an allusion to his age. Rather, it reflected the fact that, like a military commander, he was always in charge-the boss. Due to his dynamic personality, he was the dominant presence in any family gathering, the leader to whom we all paid respect.


But the Old Man was much more than merely a respected patriarchal figure. He was also boisterous, full of vigor, and a restless risk taker who lived life to its fullest. In personal relations with his family, he was warm and loving, deeply concerned about the well-being of each of us. We all have our own fond memories of this unique and very strong character.


On 10 January 1988, just after his daily diggings -in his large garden in Fairhope, Joe Ream suffered a massive aneurysm. He died ten days later in Mobile, at age 84. Joe is buried with Anita in Tallahassee.