BEDFORD-RAISED WILL REEVE COMES BACK TO VISIT HIS OLD SCHOOL (RIPPOWAM CISQUA) AND SITS DOWN FOR A CHAT WITH B&NC MAG
an author, actress, singer, and activist, and Christopher’s champion, herself succumbed to lung cancer at 44, less than 2 years after Chris’ death, leaving Will an orphan at 13.
Knowing that she was dying, and planning for Will’s future, Dana chose neighbors Ralph and Ann Pucci to adopt Will. And Will was embraced and supported by the community as a whole, and particularly by the folks at Rippowam Cisqua, and then Brunswick. Then Will followed in his mother’s footsteps choosing Middlebury College, where he graduated cum laude with a degree in English and American Literature.
Fast forward to the present...Will is living his dream as a broadcast journalist at Good Morning America. He’s smart, positive, genuine, humble, socially conscious...lives in Gotham and was named one of Town & Country’s TOP 50 BACHELORS, and...looks a whole lot like Clark Kent.
B&NC MAG: What’s it like to be Superman’s son?
REEVE: I’m not, I’m Christopher and Dana’s son. And I know that my dad is beloved around the world for the role that he played. But I certainly don’t think of myself as Superman’s son. Just like if your mom or dad is a lawyer or accountant or teacher, they don’t come home and go over that day’s work in detail. We weren’t analyzing movies or watching my dad’s clips, we were talking about my homework and whether my room was properly cleaned, and all the things you deal with in every family.
I didn’t really grow up around lots of other celebrities – I grew up here in Bedford… although I hear now that lots of famous people like Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively and whoever else live here…but, I was not part of a celebrity culture, and that was an intentional choice by my parents. They never lived in L.A. or subscribed to the Hollywood lifestyle or mentality - in fact they rather loathed it. My parents did everything they could to give me the most normal and healthy childhood they could. That included school, friends, sports, extracurriculars...repeat. I always felt as a kid here that people really respected our privacy and normal lives.
My parents were obviously public figures and I’m extremely conscious that there have been inherent perks and advantages that have come along with that. But my parents always instilled in me that we were incredibly lucky and must always be grateful. They taught me not to use our name to get something and never to expect special treatment, and it seemed to me they rejected special treatment more often than not. My mom’s mantra was that ‘you had to give more
than you take’.
And my dad was paralyzed from the time I was 3, so it’s involved in all the memories I have of him. I did recently watch a documentary he did just before his accident, about the grey whale migration from the Baring Straight down to Baja Mexico. He did that for National Geographic, and I used to watch that with him all the time as a kid. That was probably the closest I came to thinking of my dad as a movie star, or anything more important than being my dad...and whales are still my favorite animal.
I did once get to be on Sesame Street when I was in second grade. That was nepotism at work, I was terrible, and I never really had much of an interest in acting. We had a good time – that was a good day, Big Bird and Zoe, me and my dad. But my very famous dad didn’t feel like a celebrity to me.
B&NC MAG: Tell us about the Pucci family
and about your half-siblings.
They were our next door neighbors. Michael and Nicole are both very close to me in age. Michael was my first best friend, and our parents were really close. Michael and Nicole would come over in one of those little red plastic Jeeps and pick me up when we were little. I’ve been tagging along with the Puccis for as long as I can remember. So, ultimately, when my mom was very sick and had to make a decision about what was going to happen to me, she made what was the best decision she ever made as far as I’m concerned...she asked the Puccis to be my guardians...and they said yes! They took me in, and they loved me, not even like a son, they loved me, and do love me, as a son. The Puccis are my family and they always will be. I think their legal jurisdiction over me expired when I turned 18 – which was a decade ago… but when I say ‘I’m going home’ - it’s their house.
And I’m really close with my brother Matthew and sister Alexandra, who are my dad’s kids from his relationship with Gae Exton before he met my mom. They’re my half-siblings, but we always say, ‘there’s no half’! They were born and raised in London, but went to college in the U.S. My sister lives in D.C. and my brother lives in L.A., but we try to get together as often as possible. They each have two kids and I think I’m doing a pretty good job being an uncle. It’s really not that hard being an uncle to kids under the age of 5, because I just get to do the fun stuff. But I will say that I’m more than adequate at feeding them, and changing diapers, and even getting them down for naps… I can do the full thing!
B&NC MAG: What are your favorite memories from growing up here?
REEVE: Too many to condense into a usable answer, but I think, in an overarching sense, that my memories are of community, the laughter and the love, and coming to school - here at Ripp - where I felt heard and celebrated and understood. I felt so encouraged in every aspect of my life.
Driving around here, everything I see reminds me of something – an experience with my parents or my friends. Going to movies at the Playhouse was such a treat. And there was nothing better than a half-day Friday at Ripp! My mom would pick me up from school, usually with some friends, we’d stop at the Bedford Village Deli, get my sandwich - the ‘Mr. T’, and eat on the Village Green, and then go to some extra-curricular. It was so innocent and pure… and a whole lot of fun.
Doing anything with my dad required a lot of planning, so we couldn’t really be spontaneous. But it didn’t deter my parents from living as normal a life as possible. We would go to Dinardo’s in Pound Ridge, and Spacarellis in North Castle, and Luna in Mt. Kisco (I think it became Woody’s on Main). My dad’s 50th birthday party was there, and my mom sang at it.
More than any one particular memory growing up here, I remember mostly how growing up here made me feel. I love this town, I love this school, and I love the memories here.
B&NC MAG: How did you get to be a broadcast journalist? Anything to do with your dad having worked at The Daily Planet?
REEVE: I’ve pretty much always known I wanted to do something pretty much like what I’m doing. The real joke is that I wanted to be a professional athlete...until I realized that I couldn’t be one… so I figured that the next best thing would be talking about sports on TV! I grew up with ESPN on in the house pretty much 24/7, and my parents were huge sports people. I always dreamed of anchoring Sports Center.
Through a whole bunch of lucky breaks, I got an internship at Good Morning America in the summer of 2012 - and I was hooked. Being behind the scenes in the organized chaos at GMA, and then putting out this immaculate product, was intoxicating. And I remember the specific day that I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do. I was in the control room during a breaking news situation - it was the Colorado movie theatre shooting. Seeing the reporters’ act aggressively in pursuit of the facts and the truth, while maintaining respect and sobriety, and putting all of these whirling, whizzing, disparate pieces into a cohesive product - live on television- was like magic! Being a part of that… I realized, yeah, that’s the thing I want to do!
to stay an extra ten minutes, and I would sit at the anchor desk and have someone run the prompter for me. I managed to make a really professional reel I could send out to news organizations. Lot’s of networking and resumes later, I was introduced to the head of talent at ESPN, who said they were willing to take a chance on me and gave me a start right out of Middlebury.
I worked at ESPN for a few years, and I’m so grateful to the folks there, and for my time there, for so many reasons. I was a bit of an oddity starting out there because I wasn’t a seasoned broadcast professional or a former athlete or coach. Because that meant there wasn’t always a natural assignment for me, I invented a role. I created this thing we called ‘The Will Reeve Experience’. It was a series of all the cool things that you would dream of getting to do as a sports fan, but would never get to do because you don’t get the access. ...I was a groundskeeper for a day at Wrigley Field, I was a tour guide at Yankee Stadium, I was a cheerleader at Clemson, I was a RUFF/NEK at Oklahoma, I was a yell leader at Texas A&M, I was a bull wrangler at Colorado, I was a ticket taker and pretzel vendor at Michigan, I was a part of the Ohio State Band, I was the Eagle handler at Auburn. ...And I got to anchor Sports Center occasionally!
B&NC MAG: What’s the coolest part of being with Good Morning America?
REEVE: One feature I did that was particularly meaningful for me was getting to meet Chris Barr – who was paralyzed surfing in California and received a cutting edge treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. We were granted access to Barr’s final appointment at the Mayo Clinic... before he was happily kicked out the door.
I met with Barr, in his wheelchair, and his wife, and I couldn’t help but think of my parents, who had given so many interviews in that exact context... and here I was as the interviewer. They told me about his story, then we met with his doctor, and we did all the perfunctory elements of a day-long TV shoot. ...As things wrapped up, Barr rolled up to me in his wheelchair and… GOT UP!… AND WALKED DOWN THE HALLWAY WITH ME! These were among the first steps he had taken without assistance. I was blown away! I was thrilled for him, and thrilled to have been a personal witness. It was something that I always hoped and dreamed that I would get to see my own dad do...and he never got the chance. Seeing Barr leave his wheelchair left me speechless...and I really don’t remember the rest of the interview.
That, and getting to do the final leg of Janne Kouri’s wheelchair ride across America. Janne is an alum of Brunswick, where I went to high school, who went to Georgetown and played football there... and was later paralyzed. He did a ride across America, and I got to join him for the final leg! Robin Roberts had profiled him at GMA a couple times before in his journey to try to walk again, and she so graciously passed the baton to me to tell this part of his story. I got to do the final 40 miles with him – him in his power chair and me on a bike. We finished at the Georgetown Library and I conducted the interview, still all sweaty from the ride! Awesome!
Getting to do my job at GMA and bring attention to the spinal cord community at the same time is a highlight of my career and life.
B&NC MAG: Tell us about your work on the
Board of the Reeve Foundation?
REEVE: My dad’s ultimate dream was a world of empty wheelchairs. I’m really proud to continue my parents’ legacy and to further their mission to find cures for paralysis, and provide quality of life care for affected individuals and families.
The spinal cord community is hyper-focused right now on something we call ‘The Big Idea’. Tens of millions of dollars in research in epidural stimulation have led to a device that’s placed at the base of a patient’s spine and sends signals to electrodes that are also surgically implanted in the patient. The technology has already proven successful in resuscitating functions including temperature regulation, bowel and bladder regulation, and sexual function, and even in getting walking muscles working as a part of a rehab regimen with some patients. And right now, we like to say that we are in the ‘1980s cellphone’ version of the stimulator...with all technology improving according to Moore’s law...and the 5G version - and the getting patients up to walk again part - just around the corner.
What we’re doing right now at the Reeve Foundation is having a tangible, visible, obvious, and incredible impact on peoples’ lives, in a way I think my mom and dad could have only dreamed of. It’s incredibly exciting to be an agent of hope in that way.
B&NC MAG: You’ve obviously faced a lot of adversity and tragedy in your life, but you come across as a really positive person with a very positive outlook. Everyone we’ve spoken to about you lights up at the mention of your name and has nothing but positive things to say about you. Is it a conscious decision?
REEVE: As you can imagine, much like anyone else’s life, my life isn’t a string of one green light after another. But I grew up in a house where optimism and positivity were the rule. My parents projected an air of hope and calm. My mom often said ‘there’s not enough time in the day to sit around feeling sorry for yourself’. Does that mean that I don’t have my moments of extreme self-doubt or bad moods? No, I’m very much a human-being, and I have my moments just like anyone else. It’s not a conscious decision for me to be any one way or the other. I think I’m inherently positive.
I believe that hope is what sustains humanity when it’s at its best, and I learned that from my parents for sure. When you’re in a house where tragedy is right around the corner at any moment, you have to have hope that things are going to be okay, because there is no other way to move forward. I’ve been so exceedingly fortunate in my life, despite anything bad that has occurred, I still think that I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I was born to the two greatest parents that anyone could have, and I’ve had all the advantages handed to me. I was born on third base... it’s up to me to get home. I’m a gainfully employed, straight, white male… I realize I’m privileged. That’s how I try to think of things. What I can control is how I behave, and how I act, every day. I don’t always succeed at doing the right thing at the right time and I’m nowhere near perfect, but I live trying to be the best person that I can be.
My dad had a framed needlepoint Abraham Lincoln quote hanging in his office that’s in my apartment now. It says: “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad. And that’s my religion.” My dad organized his entire life around that principle, and I try to do the same. Not just in bringing attention to finding cures for spinal cord injury, or cancer, but more generally bringing focus to the fundamental issues of equality for all people.
B&NC MAG: So...‘Underwear-gate’…. It went viral on Instagram...Last March, when the nation was newly adjusting to Covid, you were doing a segment on GMA whence the camera panned down and revealed...
REEVE: I swear they are gym shorts. I should have brought them to prove it to you! I literally wore them on a run the other day. Nike gym shorts.
B&NC MAG: Then...the irony...that your dad came out of the phonebooth and went to work in his underwear...is not lost on you…
REEVE: ...I get it. But it was just an unfortunate sequence of technical events that led to my frame being a little too wide on national television for a blip, but I’m glad that it made some people smile during a difficult time. I’m so grateful to ABC and the public for being supportive, and seeing it as nothing more than a harmless, even funny, and definitely embarrassing moment. It’s a moment I’ll always remember...and that several of my friends and colleagues will anyway never let me forget.
B&NC MAG: Who are the 3 people you’d have to dinner tonight if you could?
REEVE: Just my mom and my dad if I could, but otherwise: Sasha Baron Cohen, Andrew Sorkin, and Maya Angelou. If you don’t come away from that dinner a better writer and a better person, then you’re hopeless.