Teachers' young love, lives cut short

William Reid and Jamie Soukup Reid, who met through Teach for America, stayed to work in Philadelphia schools.
William Reid and Jamie Soukup Reid, who met through Teach for America, stayed to work in Philadelphia schools.
Posted: August 19, 2013

For gifts, they asked for vinyl records. And teaching supplies for their classrooms.

Will and Jamie Reid held their May 26 wedding at the College of Physicians, choosing that site because it was, like them, a little quirky, home to the famous Mutter Museum with its collection of medical oddities.

They were so happy that Sunday, friends recalled, the evening cool and dry and the couple brimming with youth and vitality, their successful college careers complete, their lives as Philadelphia schoolteachers ahead, their home on Broad Street a base for exploring the city.

"I can't wait to witness the love between the two of you!" friend Jackie Desrouleaux wrote on the couple's wedding website. "I know that you guys will have an amazing life together."

On Saturday, less than three months after the wedding, shattered friends and family gathered in New Jersey for funeral services to memorialize the couple, killed in a car crash in North Carolina as they returned from a friend's wedding.

Jamie was pregnant. She died with sonogram pictures of her unborn child in her purse.

"We were all looking forward to see how they would shake up the world," said Stephanie Silver, who was Jamie's maid of honor, the two having been friends since they shared a freshman dormitory.

The couple had flown to Asheville and were traveling back to the airport Sunday when the driver of their hired limousine lost control, veered off the highway, and slammed into a tree.

Jamie, 25, was killed in the crash. Will, 26, died at a hospital later that day. Police are deciding whether to file charges against the limo driver, who remains hospitalized.

In Philadelphia and elsewhere, staggered friends, family, and coworkers struggled to accept that Will and Jamie were gone, their grief stretching beyond shock to true astonishment.

Jamie Soukup and William Reid had come separately to Philadelphia in 2010 to join Teach for America, met while getting master's degrees in urban education at the University of Pennsylvania, and begun challenging careers teaching kids in the region's hard urban core.

What drove them, colleagues said, was a desire to improve the lives of others.

"He was the smartest person I've ever met," said Michael Bodenberger, best man at the wedding and friends with Will since high school.

Will first taught at Lincoln High School in the Northeast, then moved to teach sixth-grade math at the People for People Charter School on North Broad Street, a few blocks from the couple's apartment at Lofts 640.

Will wrote his master's thesis on why the traditional funding model for schools was broken, creating enormous disparities in opportunities and outcomes. The day of his funeral, he was scheduled to take the GMATs, the standard graduate-school admission test, hoping to enroll at Wharton.

He wanted a business degree to help him create an innovative schools-funding plan and to take a step toward a future dream job in the Education Initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jamie had been laid off after her first year of teaching, at Grover Cleveland Elementary in North Philadelphia, when the school district budget imploded. She quickly found a home teaching seventh-grade English and literature at the Harrity campus of Mastery Charter School in West Philadelphia.

Harrity had been a poor-performing district school before being turned over to Mastery in fall 2010.

"She was a gift to teaching," said Debi Durso, Jamie's principal at Harrity. "She really believed in this idea that, 'If I care, other people are going to care, as well.' "

In the classroom, Jamie taught classic coming-of-age novels like The Outsiders and The House on Mango Street. She ran the chess club - she loved chess - and an after-school reading club.

Set to begin her third year there, Jamie was "as idealistic now as she was when she first came in," Durso said. "It sounds cliché, but she was a very, very good person who really believed in what she was doing."

In retrospect, it's clear Jamie and Will were a match even before they knew each other.

He was the eldest of three children of Jim and Anne Reid of Phillipsburg, N.J.; she, the younger of two daughters raised in the Pacific Northwest terrain of Sammamish, Wash.

In an interview, parents Kay and Ron Soukup recalled being summoned to school by Jamie's third- or fourth-grade teacher. The problem: Jamie was "disruptive." She was willful, independent, following her instincts over classroom directions.

"I said, 'I agree with everything you said,' " Ron, a retired Microsoft engineer, said, " 'but those traits are going to serve her well in life.' "

Jamie graduated magna cum laude from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., where she was an editor of the Pioneer student newspaper and head of the university Writing House.

Will was a handful as a boy, said his mother, Anne Reid, treasurer at Moravian College in Bethlehem.

Blindingly smart, he had to be first and best at everything. In high school, he played No. 1 singles on the tennis team, earned grades that made him valedictorian, and scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs.

He put the same pressure on himself at Dartmouth College. He didn't relax until he met Jamie.

"His need to be No. 1 took a backseat to his need to be No. 1 for her," his mother said.

From points on opposite ends of the country, Jamie and Will applied to Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in poor areas. Both were assigned to Philadelphia. And both enrolled at Penn, a partner with Teach for America.

"You could tell they were genuinely invested in children and in improving their own practices as teachers," said Mary Del Savio, director of the Teach for America masters-and-certification program at Penn. "They were incredibly committed to the work they were doing here in Philadelphia."

The two spent months in the same class before they formally met, at Jamie's 23d birthday party. She thought Will was trying to act cool, and didn't like it - or him.

But they met again at a friend's home, and that time they connected. It turned out both loved German, Will having majored in the language at Dartmouth; Jamie made it her minor at Whitman, where she majored in English. They talked about obscure bands, and when Jamie left the party, Will offered her a ride home.

Later that night, she got an e-mail from him with an attachment, a song from the hip-hop band A Tribe Called Quest. She was excited that he wanted her to hear it.

The next weekend, they were among a group of friends who went to the Jersey Shore. On the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, next to the carnival rides, they kissed for the first time.

From then on, Will rarely went to see Jamie without bringing a small gift. She loved that because she had always done the same for her friends, once giving her friend Silver, who often mischievously snatched food from others' plates, an extendable fork.

Will read the Wall Street Journal and novels by David Foster Wallace. Jamie tackled the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle and Jeopardy! questions on TV.

Jamie cut a modern, stylish look while pursuing an old-fashioned love of sewing. Recently, she was thinking of returning to graduate school for a master's in fine arts to help pursue her writing dreams.

"Jamie and Will were kind of a couple out of a fairy tale," Silver said. "He was really her Prince Charming, and she was really a princess with a heart of gold."

Bodenberger, the best man, last saw the couple three weeks ago, when they met for beers at the Prohibition Taproom. Jamie wasn't drinking because of the baby.

They bathed in the wedding's afterglow.

Jamie and Will designed that special day around a teaching theme; the guest book was a small wooden school bus, the tables named by school subject. They knew just where to seat their teacher friends: remedial math.

The traditional father-daughter dance was anything but traditional: a Twist competition between Jamie and her dad.

"Will is my best friend on the planet," Jamie wrote on their wedding blog.

"Jamie is my best friend in the universe," Will wrote.

A second memorial service is scheduled for Aug. 25 in Sammamish.

The couple's website continues to automatically click off the number of days they've been married - 80, 81, 82 - even as condolence messages appear.

"You will never read this, unfortunately," wrote Anthony Mangiarciana. "I am sick over what happened to you two wonderful people, just sick over it. I truly hope there is a God so that you can be together with him and your baby."

To Donate

Donations can be made to the William and Jamie Reid Scholarship Fund, c/o Phillipsburg High School, 200 Hillcrest Blvd, Phillipsburg, N.J., 08865, with checks payable to the school. Contributions also can be made to the Jamie Soukup Reid Memorial Scholarship Fund, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash., 99362.

Contact Jeff Gammage at 215-854-4906, jgammage@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JeffGammage.

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