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Towering Tales: How Chris Reed ’77, ’79 Engineered Memories at Rice

Towering Tales: How Chris Reed ’77, ’79 Engineered Memories at Rice
Chris Reed '77, '79 and Catherine Reed '77 '78

For many Rice Owls, the tree-lined university is the backdrop for learning, friendships and personal growth. For Chris Reed ’77, ’79, his Rice journey was deeply intertwined with the campus itself.

Chris’s adventure began his freshman year when he inherited his brother Barry’s ’73 role assisting in the Rice Memorial Center (RMC).

One evening, while locking up the RMC, Chris was alerted to a break-in attempt at the bell tower. After notifying the campus police, Chris decided to investigate himself. “I got curious,” he said. “What were they after? I got the key, opened the gate and thought, ‘This is awesome.’” Looking at the space inside the tower, Chris envisioned a transformation, saying, “Cement dust was an inch thick. But I saw it had promise.”

Chandelier

Chris got to work cleaning, painting and renovating the space. At the time, President Norman Hackerman had issued a moratorium on new construction while encouraging folks on campus to be creative using existing space. Chris took this edict to heart. He installed modern amenities, including electricity, a relay control system for the lights and a telephone line. He built a second-floor wraparound workbench where he often did homework and a third-floor loft bed above a self-plumbed kitchen. “I only slept there maybe a half dozen nights in five years,” he said, one of which was during a major flood.

The bell tower also featured a toilet, shower, rudimentary air conditioning and a refrigerator, which Chris elevated using a crane he built himself. “The refrigerator was too big to go from the bottom, so we had to hoist it up the outside and then lower it down from the top,” he said. “One summer night I had a couple of friends help me drag this thing out there. We got some strange looks.”

The tower wouldn’t be complete without a porch swing on the top, open level. “I decided it really needed a porch swing because what's a five-story bell tower without one?” Chris said. “I built the swing out of a bunch of two-by-fours and chains and whatnot. It was very lovely sitting up there swinging. I really enjoyed that.”

Chris’s creativity extended to salvaging a chandelier and ceiling fan (originally installed in the faculty chambers) rusting in Lovett Hall’s basement, which he meticulously restored and installed in the tower. His engineering prowess was later recognized when the fixture he installed found a new home in the Russ Pitman Tower in the Humanities Building, a testament to his ingenuity.

During his time at Rice, Chris established a great rapport with the campus police and administration. His work at the RMC, setting up events and fixing equipment, earned him the gratitude of the Food and Housing department, which gifted champagne for his wedding to Catherine ’77, ’78, who he met during O-Week.

Chris and Catherine
Photo by Walter Underwood '79

Knowledge of the bell tower’s existence eventually reached President Hackerman, who toured the building and commended Chris on his work, giving him permission to stay until he finished his degree.

Chris still fondly remembers the many ways Rice fostered his engineering skills, ingenuity and personal development. “I was the classic, shy nerd in high school, but managing people at the RMC helped prepare me for leadership roles. After I graduated and went to work for Schlumberger, they made me department head of 26 people within three and a half years of finishing college.”

Decades later, Chris and Catherine enjoy strolling around the campus that played a pivotal role in their lives, a testament to Rice’s transformative impact.