J.C. Reese, seen in an undated photo, liked to test his family...

J.C. Reese, seen in an undated photo, liked to test his family on spelling. Credit: Reese family

J.C. Reese was a voracious reader, poring through dictionaries and absorbing both the spellings and meanings of each word. He was so knowledgeable, the former Amityville resident was nicknamed "Encyclopedia Brown," after the classic all-knowing children's book character.

He also enjoyed putting his family to the test.

“At nighttime, we’d have family dinners and you couldn’t get up from the table until you spelled a word,” said daughter Dr. Stephanie Reese, 41, of Georgia. “He’d give you something ridiculous. [When I was] in third grade, he’d say, ‘Spell colloquial.’ Your leg would go to sleep on the chair [before getting it right].”

Reese died April 5 at 85 from complications of COVID-19 at Mount Sinai Morningside in Manhattan, his family said.

“We were favorite cousins,” said Pansy R. King, 83, of New Jersey. “He was always full of life. He liked people and you could always get a laugh when you talked with him.”

Reese, a Manhattan resident who lived in Amityville from the late 1960s until 1993, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1954 to 1962. He was stationed in Africa, Morocco, England and France. He later served in the NYPD for 23 years as a beat cop and community affairs officer in the 73rd Precinct in Brooklyn. While in the NYPD, Reese was briefly on the security detail for boxer Mike Tyson. Tyson liked Reese so much that he once sent the family a turkey for Thanksgiving, Stephanie Reese said.

Born Sept. 15,1934, in Florida, Reese moved to Harlem when he was 9. He was a talented singer and artist and was a classmate of Tony Bennett at Art and Design High School in Manhattan, Stephanie Reese said. As an adult, he sang in the gospel choir at the Hollywood Baptist Church in Amityville and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

In addition to Stephanie, Reese is survived by daughters Vanessa Foster-Bay of Queens, and Ayana Watson and Leslie Reese, both of Georgia; son Jacy of Monroe; sister Odessa Maxwell of Manhattan; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. He is predeceased by a son, Ashton. 

A memorial service will be held on Long Island in September. He will be buried at Pinelawn Memorial Park and Arboretum at a later date, Stephanie said.

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