Rachel Reeves was her father Garth’s daughter.
And, at the same time, she wasn’t quite her father’s daughter.
But she was a Reeves, through and through, a member of a black-owned family newspaper dynasty built in Miami nearly 100 years ago.
Reeves, who died Thursday at 69 after battling a long illness, is the daughter of Garth Reeves Sr. and the granddaughter of the late Henry Reeves, the Bahamian printer who founded The Miami Times newspaper in 1923.
Through the Reeves’ dynasty — Henry, Garth Sr. and Rachel — the Miami Times is approaching 100 years as the pre-eminent voice and watchdog for Miami’s black community. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say a voice and watchdog for the national black community.
‘A community icon’
“It is with heartfelt sorrow to hear of the passing of Rachel Reeves, my cherished friend and a community icon,” said Miami-Dade County Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson. “As the publisher and CEO of the Miami Times, she led Miami’s largest African American newspaper in the South, providing relevant news and information to the community with grace. This community mourns her passing.”
But Rachel Reeves didn’t initially see herself as the successor to her now 100-year-old father, who, for nearly 25 years, served as The Miami Times publisher, assuming the mantle from his father, Henry, in 1970.
When Garth Sr. announced his retirement in 1992 and made it official in 1994, the one-time printer’s helper, civil rights activist, publisher and civic leader admitted he didn’t see his daughter as The Miami Times publisher. He had groomed his son, her brother Garth Jr., for that role.
But in 1982, Garth Jr. died at 30 of colon cancer. Garth Sr. stayed on to run The Miami Times and when he envisioned retirement, he figured on selling the paper.
“Really, I thought at one time of hanging it up. I guess I’m a chauvinist, because I didn’t think Rachel could handle it,” Garth Sr. told the Miami Herald in 1992.
Rachel, too, hadn’t seen herself at the helm of the paper.
She studied English literature at Bennett College in North Carolina but unlike her grandfather, father and brother, had no real interest in writing for a newspaper.
A young Rachel Reeves had even commissioned a Reeves family portrait in 1980 to honor the people who made The Miami Times an emblem of black pride and journalistic integrity. She ordered that they be painted against the masthead of The Miami Times. That painting would hang in Garth Sr.’s Liberty City office for decades.
That painting, however, only included the three Reeves men, grandfather, son and grandson. If it ever crossed her mind to have herself immortalized alongside her family, Rachel Reeves didn’t voice it at the time.
“At that time, that’s where I was,” she told the Herald 12 years later in 1992 as she prepared for her unplanned-for position as The Miami Times’ publisher and chief executive officer. At 41, in 1991, she had two mild strokes while at a newspaper convention in Atlanta with her father.
Yet she overcame her health obstacles with the same determination she poured into the family business. “I feel that my attitude is very important to my recovery,” she said soon after.
Growing a family newspaper dynasty
A Miami native, born May 22, 1950, Reeves followed her own talents and they differed from that of her grandfather, father and brother. After graduating from college, she had steadily risen at The Miami Times in the advertising department before becoming business manager, the position she held when she earned her father’s title.
Miami historian Dorothy Jenkins Fields, founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida, grew up alongside Reeves. “I’ve known her all my life,” she said. “Our families were pioneers in Miami’s Colored Town.”
Reeves, Fields said, earned her own distinct legacy in chronicling Miami’s diverse and often fractured communities.
“She was an astute businesswoman who learned the craft from her father and her grandfather and she was a no-nonsense newspaperwoman — and she enjoyed it immensely,” Fields said.
“I never, ever thought I would have to play this role. I didn’t want it. I really didn’t,” Reeves told the Herald at the time she learned she was to be in the spotlight as publisher.
A different temperament, talent
But she was a Reeves.
“My father is very laid-back, which is a plus, and handles things very carefully,” Reeves once told the Herald. “I ain’t laid-back at all. If something goes wrong, I want it straightened out.”
Her style was different from that of her grandfather, whom she greatly admired, and of her brother, who sought his dad’s role.
But her dad, who confessed he sought his son’s advice over his daughter’s, came to realize after his son had died that it was his daughter he had really relied on.
“He would never give me a direct answer,” the elder Reeves told the Herald, speaking about his son. “He’d walk out of here and walk into Rachel’s office. Rachel gives him the answers. A half-hour later he comes back and says, ‘I’ve been thinking about it, I think we should do this ...’ ”
The results speak for themselves.
“She learned from him, she was observing him, and, of course, she worked along with her brother who was out front at first. But after his passing, she came and stepped right in and she did her family and her community well,” Fields said.
While newspapers struggle through today’s challenges, The Miami Times’ audience is loyal. There’s little reason to think that the weekly paper and its website won’t push beyond its 100th year with her now 29-year-old son, Garth Basil Reeves, at the helm.
That’s the plan, says his godfather, South Florida Times publisher and owner Robert Beatty. (The two papers are not related. Rachel, in turn, was godmother to Reeves’ daughter Victoria.)
A Reeves atop the masthead
Father and daughter had long envisioned that a Reeves family member’s name would remain atop the paper’s masthead. She wanted this for her son from the moment Garth Basil Reeves was 3. That’s when he would visit the paper’s office on Northwest 54th Street to watch his mom and granddad at work, she had told the Herald.
His mother not only concentrated on the business end — the circulation — but pushed Miami Times’ writers to write more analytical pieces. She wanted readers to not only know what was happening in their community, but how it affected them personally.
She sometimes clashed with her father.
Rachel was the impetus for changing the paper’s format from tabloid to a broadsheet that aligned it with major competitors like the nearby Miami Herald. She pushed for higher wages to attract better staffers. Her strategies here, and elsewhere, sometimes put her at odds with her dad.
“Rachel was profoundly brilliant, just profoundly brilliant. Her business savvy was second to none and the result of those two factors culminated in the extension and the broadening of her father’s and her grandfather’s legacies at that newspaper,” Beatty said.
“The legacy those two gentlemen left was astounding, was amazing in that they created a newspaper in an extraordinarily challenging period of time and they drew that newspaper and made it substantial not only locally but nationally,” Beatty said. “And Rachel evolved and broadened the legacy of both of her predecessors.
“So she did what was expected of her by her father. And, I daresay, she did even more,” Beatty said. “She was a great lady and what we have today is a wonderful newspaper that her son is now able to assume the reign over and I’m confident he will do an astounding job.”
But, as Garth Reeves learned in 1970 when he assumed Henry Reeves’ position, and what Rachel Reeves learned in 1992 when she agreed to do the same when her dad stepped down, nothing comes easy.
Her death, Beatty said, is “a terrible loss to this community, to us, and to the family. It’s a terrible loss of a really dynamic woman and so her son has a lot of work to do.”
Reeves’ survivors include her father and her son. Family friend Bob Edwards said services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, at The Historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church, 1750 NW Third Ave. in Overtown.