Obituary: Rick Reese

Posted at 9:30 AM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 11:30:09-05

Rick Reese, 79, passed away on January 9, 2022. There are three things we will remember about Rick: his love for his family, his twin and best friend, Rob (Sharon), sister, Pam (Ev), and brother, John (Jan), his wife of 55 years, Mary Lee, daughter, Paige (Jeff), son, Seth (2000), and three terrific grandchildren; his enduring love of the Wasatch mountains where he grew up climbing; and Montana where he developed his advocacy for conservation and preservation of wild places.

Rick was born on February 16, 1942. He grew up in Utah ingrained with a solid work ethic and enamored from a young age with a passion for the outdoors. In the 1960s, during his years as an undergraduate student (University of Utah where he met Mary Lee) and graduate student (Josef Korbel School of International Studies), Rick worked as a climbing ranger at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Rick participated in many dangerous rescues over the years. He was respected for his ability to move quickly over mountain terrain, his can-do attitude, and his unflappable nature under pressure. These traits served him well in many capacities over the years.

Rick was first introduced to Montana on a flight from Salt Lake City to Glacier National Park for a mountain rescue. As the plane flew over the Madison Range, he told himself that he needed to go there. And indeed, the mountains of Montana became important to him.

After completing his college degrees, Rick and Mary Lee moved to Helena, Montana where their daughter, Paige, and son, Seth, were born. It was in Helena where Rick taught political science at Carroll College that he became committed to the protection of the environment. He arranged for his students to be interns at the Constitutional Convention where he realized the importance of advocacy and involvement to preserve areas of land, clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and wild spaces for future generations. His teaching at Carroll College inspired young people to get involved in community, government, or whatever endeavor that would make a difference. Rick has always said that the measure of a man’s life is not the amount of money he can make but in his “good works”. Rick’s life has accomplished that.

In 1980, Rick was hired by Yellowstone National Park Superintendent John Townsley to run the Yellowstone Institute (now Yellowstone Forever), a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching people about the park. Rick and Mary Lee spent the next five years running the Institute from Mammoth Hot Springs in the winter and the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the summer, introducing thousands of people to the wonders and wildlife of Yellowstone and creating memories for all that would last a lifetime.

While working in Yellowstone “where happiness and contentment seemed to reign in wild romantic splendor surrounded by majestic battlements which seemed to support the heavens” (Osborne Russell, 1835 journal entry), Rick began envisioning a new organization to protect Yellowstone National Park. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) was officially incorporated on November 7, 1983, and Rick served as the founding president for the next two years. Following Rick’s “official” retirement in 2004, he remained actively involved in conservation as interim executive director of GYC in 2009, on the board of Mountain Journal, and co-chair of the Bonneville Shoreline Preservation group.

Rick had numerous accomplishments and accolades, but he will be remembered most for his quick wit, his ability to turn a phrase, his commitment to environmental conservation, his dedication to family, and his ability to smell chocolate chip cookies no matter where you tried to hide them.

A Celebration of Rick’s Life will be held later this spring in Bozeman, Montana and in Salt Lake City, Utah. In lieu of flowers, please share your favorite story of, or memory about, Rick with his family, or consider donating to one of Rick’s favorite non-profit organizations: National Parks & Conservation Association (NPCA), Save our Canyons (SOC) in Salt Lake City, Trust for Public Land, Yellowstone Forever, Future West, or Mountain Journal to name a few.

Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. []