ST. PETERSBURG — Off and on for decades, Nancy Reed played the organ and interchangeable maternal roles with skill and practice. The wife of a seasoned diplomat, she studied with some of the greatest organists in Europe, practicing at home with children crawling over the pedal board by her ankles.
Foreign officials savored her cooking, which she learned by taking notes when The French Chef aired. When the crêpes Suzette had been served and the wine poured, Mrs. Reed played a Steinway piano while her husband, a tenor soloist, sang satirical Tom Lehrer songs and other lighthearted fare.
Behind the trappings of privilege stood a vigorous woman born into a poor but intellectually curious family, who would graduate from Vassar College in the same class as future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier. She would marry John Reed, a diplomat for the Secretary of Defense and a foreign affairs adviser.
They lived in Amsterdam, Paris, London and Bonn, Germany. Mrs. Reed studied with Belgian organist and composer Flor Peeters and French organist and classical music composer Jean Langlais.
"In the organ world, those two guys are a really big deal," said retired University of South Florida music professor Hilton Jones. "Those are two of the biggest teachers you could have in pipe organ."
In Bonn she met Hans Klais, whose family had built or restored some of the largest organs in the world. She gave recitals in many grand European cathedrals. Back in the States, she sang alto in several well-known chorales and taught organ students who went on to play professionally.
Nancy Campbell was born in Scranton, Pa., in 1929. Though her father had begun work as a coal miner at age 11, he faithfully read the Sunday New York Times and encouraged her to learn as much as she could. She taught herself to play on a $10 piano with a Methodist hymnal. She was admitted to Vassar on a full academic scholarship. She married Reed and was soon juggling motherhood with music and entertaining foreign dignitaries.
Between stints in European cities for three years or so, they would return to Washington, D.C., where Mrs. Reed played piano and organ at numerous large churches.
"It sounded as if she couldn't keep a job because I kept taking her overseas," said John Reed, 80. Both were outgoing, optimistic and politically engaged.
"She liked a good joke but nothing ribald," her husband said. "She had a very wholesome sense of humor."
Mrs. Reed maintained a youthful appearance and a certain exuberance, her family said — so much so, a French au pair started calling her "the teenage mommy."
She pushed her children to read from Great Books of the Western World, a 54-volume set, and to play musical instruments. Her sons played trumpet, trombone and bass.
"My mother made us keep up by playing along with us on the piano so it sounded like we were much better than we were, "said daughter Elizabeth Poland, who played the oboe.
Mrs. Reed and her husband began living in St. Petersburg in 1996, where they joined the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College. For several years, they alternated time between Florida and Vermont. In 2000, the Vermont chapter of the American Guild of Organists named Mrs. Reed its artist of the year.
Before her dementia advanced over the last decade, she accompanied voice students on the piano at recitals. She also enjoyed playing the school's custom Flentrop organ in the chapel, one of a few of its kind in the United States.
Mrs. Reed died Wednesday at a Seminole nursing home. She was 83.
An organist will play some of her favorite pieces at her memorial service.
Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.