William Maurice 'Reece' Coney, 65, helpful neighbor

Posted: June 24, 2014

FOLKS AROUND 56th Street and Lansdowne Avenue in West Philadelphia called Reece Coney the "Lansdowne Avenue Griot."

The term "griot" comes from West Africa and denotes a person who is a neighborhood leader, historian, storyteller and wise man.

That was Reece.

"Reece was a treasure," said Jean Waites-Howard, social worker, teacher, evangelist and longtime friend. "He was a precious link in our circle. His role is irreplaceable. He was respected and loved in the neighborhood.

"Our griot had been a link for many of us from Lansdowne Avenue. He reached out to those who were ill and kept everyone informed about their health. He would say: 'Time to give something back. I have taken so much.'

"He remembered everyone and always knew where people were."

William Maurice "Reece" Coney, who held a number of jobs, including at Acme Bakery, Einstein Medical Center and the Urban Education Center and as a restaurant cook, a man who could always be counted on in his West Philadelphia neighborhood to help whomever needed him, died June 14 of liver cancer. He was 65.

If someone from his neighborhood needed help, Reece was there. He visited his friend Lester "Popsicle" Newberry every week in a nursing home before Newberry's death. He cut another friend's hair in an assisted-living facility before the friend died.

Such gestures were typical of Reece, who considered it one of his missions to keep in touch with his neighbors and friends to find out what they needed and to provide it if he could.

"He was known for his flair and unique sense of style," his family said. "Coney was an expressive character."

The neighborhood almost lost Reece in the mid-'80s when he had a devastating accident that nearly killed him. Although the facts are unclear, he apparently was struck by a train on the Market-Frankford Line.

He was working as a cook for the Urban Education Center at the time. His own memory of the accident was not clear, said his son, William Qaadir Reece. "He didn't remember much about it," William said.

But the prognosis at the time was that he probably wouldn't walk again. However, through grit and determination and years of rehabilitation therapy, he was able to walk, using a cane, and took a part-time job at Acme Markets to keep busy.

Reece was born in Chicago to William Coney and Carolyn Bell Coney. The family came to Philadelphia and he attended public schools, graduating from Overbrook High School in 1967.

His first job was with Acme Bakery across the street from the high school. He worked as a cook for Steak & Take restaurant on Lansdowne Avenue and worked for Chris' Cleaners, owned by one of his mentors, Chris C. "Aziz Karim" White, who died in 2012.

Reece also worked as an orderly for Einstein Medical Center and as a cook for Urban Education Center, a banquet and catering service.

Although Reece joined the Nation of Islam in his youth, he later became an active member of the Holy Temple of God Baptist Church in West Oak Lane. It was there that he met his future second wife, Pamela Watson.

Reece enjoyed kicking back with oldies music broadcast on WDAS, and listening to his favorite R&B group, the Whispers. He also enjoyed reading the Final Call, the Nation of Islam newspaper, and watching wrestling on television.

"He was funny, and opinionated," his son said. "He picked and chose his spots. He wouldn't do anything he didn't want to do, and whatever he wanted to do, he did it, he did it his way."

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Carolyn Coney-Allen, and two grandchildren.

Services: Memorial service 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wood Funeral Home, 5537 W. Girard Ave.

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