The Menlo Democrat lost her bid for re-election in November, but the knowledge that she won’t be on the House floor in January hasn’t kept her from answering calls and emails from constituents.
Paul Smith, a former state House representative who was already a veteran lawmaker in 1998 when Reece was sworn in, said she’s always been known for her dedication.
“She was one of the top legislators in following up on the requests of her constituents,” he said. “People would say ‘When you call Barbara, she’ll get things done.’ And she did.”
She was a retired educator when she decided to run for the seat that represents Chattooga and part of Floyd counties. During her first year in office she instituted her signature annual Women’s Day at the Capitol visits.
“I thought women from the district should get a chance to learn about their government, so I arranged for tours at different agencies,” she said. “I suppose the idea came from just being a school teacher. Field trips.”
Since then, more than 1,100 local women have participated in the daylong trips and heard from leaders of agencies as diverse as the Georgia Supreme Court, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Department of Transportation.
“Not one dime of taxpayer money was spent,” she noted. “It was all sponsored.”
She also started arranging trips for military veterans, to get the men involved, but most couldn’t take a whole weekday for themselves. The outing turned into an annual veterans reunion in the Gore community, with help from area leaders and high school students.
Other ways she boosted her district include getting a new veterans service office in Summerville, pushing to keep Floyd and Chattooga out of metro Atlanta’s air quality non-attainment zone and working to convince Tour de Georgia officials to route the race through Rome, Sloppy Floyd Park and Lookout Mountain.
“She had a very strong work ethic,” said Rome City Commissioner Jamie Doss. “She was very committed to serving her constituents.”
Down in Atlanta, Reece gravitated naturally to the House Education Committee and focused much of her energy on protecting public schools and their employees.
She vetted Gov. Roy Barnes’ 2000 education reform package closely, and said she backed it only after the state Senate committee chaired by Rome’s Richard Marable made changes “that straightened out my concerns.”
“It was designed to put more resources in the classroom and lower the pupil-teacher ratio,” she said with a sigh. “I had hoped one day we’d see contracts for para pros, but so much of what we accomplished is gone now because of the economy.”
Reece also threw herself into her duties on the House State Institutions and Property Committee, becoming an advocate for public safety and mental health as she learned more about prison and hospital facilities.
“She was very responsive to anyone who needed her help, and she seemed to have a heart for Corrections,” said Floyd County Commissioner John Mayes, who also is vice chairman of the state Board of Corrections. “It wasn’t just because of the prison in Trion. She looked out for things beyond her borders. She looked out for that department.”
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, who was elected to the Floyd County delegation six years ago, said Reece is an example of unselfish public service. “I am especially grateful for her knowledge and years of experience as our delegation and entire region faced the unimaginable closure of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital and sweeping changes in developmental disability and mental health service delivery,” Dempsey said. “I know that she will continue to find ways to lead with her heart and serve with compassion.”
When the state announced plans to shutter Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital, its mental health facility in Rome, Reece fought the move until the 2011 closing. Since then she’s been traipsing from agency to agency with piles of documents, trying to convince officials there’s still a use for the vacant complex.
A favorite idea, she said, is a National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy that offers a second chance to young high school dropouts. It’s a program she’s long supported, and she said she intends to remain an advocate even now.
“I have so much to do at home that I’ve let go … and I love to work in the garden,” Reece said. “But I intend to keep up with what’s going on in the Legislature and what needs to go on, especially in education.”