Georgia original: This is a series of stories spotlighting area residents who have unique stories to tell based on their lives, careers and community involvement.
On Jan. 17, Gainesville resident Lois Reed turned 79. Some may call that particular age old. Lois Reed disputes that characterization.
“I’m not a wimp; I refuse to get old,” she said. “I know people years younger than I am and they just act old.”
This single sentence seems to summarize Lois Reed’s personality. And for the woman who claims to be a “gypsy,” her life more than justifies that claim. She has traveled the United States as a single and married woman. But one thing remains the same: her love of music.
“My love for music, it hasn’t been anything but church music, gospel music,” Reed said. “And it’s my contribution. My form of ministry to lead people to Jesus.”
For at least the past two decades, she has been a piano player for Corinth Baptist Church in Gainesville.
A musical love affair
Reed’s love affair with music began at an early age. The young child yearned to play the piano and finally placed her fingers on the instrument’s ivory keys when she was 7 years old.
“I actually learned some hymns all by myself,” she said.
By the time Reed turned 10, her father recognized her talent and decided piano lessons would be best. By age 13, Reed was playing full time in church.
More than six decades later, Reed still finds tickles the ivories in a house of worship.
“She is the backbone of the music program and an incredible musician,” her friend April Jensen said. “She touches hearts, souls and lives with her music. She can bring you to tears with a song. She will make you want to shout with a song and she makes you want to clap your hands and tap your feet.”
Lois and her husband, Leroy, started attending the church after relocating to Georgia for the second time. But it was not the couple’s first stop. They attended a different church for a short interval. but decided to find a new one.
Seeing her friend Ken Martin’s name on Corinth Baptist Church’s marquee, Lois and Leroy, walked into the church for the first time almost two decades ago.
“As soon as we walked down the aisle and sat in the pew, we knew this is where we should be,” Lois Reed said. “The Lord just lets you know when something is right and when something isn’t.”
Two Sundays later, Lois Reed was playing the piano and has been playing ever since.
A self-proclaimed gypsy
While Reed is a familiar face on the piano bench, she has not always been in one place.
The daughter of a minister during an era “when pastors moved a lot,” Reed grew up moving across the country.
In his profession, her father would find a small church and expand its congregation. Then he and his family would move to another town and find another church.
The frequent moves imbedded in her a nomadic lifestyle.
“With all those moves, after I became an adult, I still moved a lot,” Reed said, noting the relocations always were connected to a higher power. “Usually the moves were connected with the ministry.”
Because of her roaming nature, the woman had multiple jobs. The most interesting one was working in the space program at Cape Canaveral, Fla. But the security issues did not allow her to disclose her specific assignment at the Florida facility.
“You didn’t talk about your job,” she said.
But Reed revealed she was at Cape Canaveral at the same time as the original seven astronauts who went into space.
However, the woman’s roving spirit called for her to relocate. But this time, she decided she needed someone to “gypsy around with.”
So at 32, she met and married Leroy Reed.
“We are nothing alike,” Lois Reed said about Leroy. “He is a laid-back, sweet guy and has nothing to do with music, but he’s followed me around wherever music has taken us.”
A traveling songstress
While she has found a home base in Georgia, Reed’s roving spirit still beckons her to travel. Therefore, the woman leads a small traveling choir.
“Through the years I always found a small singing group and we would travel around to nearby states on the weekends,” Lois Reed said.
Having shoulder surgery last year put a damper on that, but now she is doing better and planning to recruit six women to launch a new chapter for musical journeys.
Reed wants her new group to stick with Southern gospel songs, even though contemporary gospel is becoming more popular.
“It took me a little while to get comfortable with contemporary music,” she said. “I’m from the old school and I’m a traditionalist, but I also know that nothing stays the same.”
If the new music leads younger people to God, then she doesn’t have a problem with it.
“She embraces new music and her enthusiasm has led the way for other seniors to grasp the new music,” Corinth Baptist Church secretary Bea Vore said.
A fun teasing time
Much loved at Corinth Baptist Church, Lois Reed is more like family than a friend, Jensen said.
“She is known as the glitter queen because she always wears bling and her personality matches her bling,” said Jensen, who has been Reed’s friend for 15 years.
If you say anything about Lois Reed, Jensen said her usual sarcastic reply is “I’m not a well woman.”
Knowing Reed for several years and getting to work with her the past year, Vore said Lois Reed is super good at instigating trouble — fun trouble.
“She teases by making comments, ‘He brightens up a room just by walking out the door, doesn‘t he?’” she said.
According to Vore, Lois Reed looks for the Achilles heel in individuals and will tease them. She even teases the pastor, but it is all in fun.
“She’s not afraid; she says what she thinks,” Vore said.
A constant hostess
On her 70th birthday, Lois Reed threw herself a party.
“I think she thought we wouldn’t do a good enough job because she is Miss Perfection and the hostess of the year with everything,” Jensen said. “She threw a big bash for herself and invited many, many people.”
Hosting is one of Lois Reed’s favorite things to do in addition to playing the piano. Besides the past couple of years, Reed usually goes out of her way to decorate her home and invites guest to enjoy Leroy Reed’s chili.
“Between November and December, the most we fed one year was 175 people,” Lois Reed said.
Of those 175, there were friends, church members, neighbors and total strangers who thought the Reeds were having a block party. According to Jensen, Christmas at the Reeds is an occasion not to be missed.
“She decorates the house. You almost have to put on sunglasses to look at the tree it has so many lights,” Jensen said. “Every room, every corner — I think they take a month to decorate and maybe a month to take it down. But she’s good at recruiting people for help.”
But Jensen said the best thing about Reed is her willingness to be there for anyone, even a stranger, in a time of need. And Lois Reed can always make you laugh no matter what is going on in your life.
“She grew up knowing the Lord and believing,” Jensen said. “And I believe that has carried her through her entire life and there is never a moment she didn’t believe. And that just gives her great joy and her joy spreads to others.”