People & Events
Prior to March 28, 1979, Middletown, Pennsylvania mayor Robert Reid considered the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island to be a blessing to his small town of 11,000 citizens. Millions of dollars had been poured into Middletown's economy during the plant's construction, and many residents collected their weekly paycheck from the plant. Three Mile Island took its place beside Bethlehem Steel and Fruehauf Trailer Factory in providing jobs and a measure of middle-class prosperity to the people of Middletown. In 1979, Robert Reid had lived all of his 46 years in Middletown. He'd made a name for himself as a star fullback for the Middletown High School Blue Raiders. While serving as mayor he continued to teach a course in American Government at that same high school. Hard-working and feisty, Reid maintained the physique that made him a boxing champ in college. He was also, in 1979, the only African American mayor in Pennsylvania.
Reid took his job as mayor seriously. He was interested in the lives and well-being of the people of Middletown. Three nights a week he would ride along in the patrol car of a policeman friend, Earl Anderson, making his presence known on Middletown's streets. Reid went to work on Wednesday, March 28, having no knowledge that a crisis had been unfolding at Three Mile Island. Midway through his first class of the day, Middletown's Civil Defense director, Butch Ryan, informed Reid that something was up at TMI. When he reached his office in the town municipal building, located less than 6,000 yards from Three Mile Island, the first challenge Reid faced was obtaining accurate information. "All that I learned when I got to the office was that there had been an on-site emergency declared," Reid recalled for writer Mark Stephens. "So we sat there and we listened to the television. We changed from channel to channel, and each channel gave us different information."
Reid would need as much accurate information as he could gather over the coming days in order to prepare for a possible evacuation of Middletown. At the time of the Three Mile Island accident, Middletown had no formal emergency evacuation plans in place, and Reid, like other state and federal officials, was growing frustrated with Met Ed. "I was angry from that Wednesday," Reid recalled. "I was upset with the way things were being handled and the way we were lied to." When Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh's office recommended a limited evacuation, Reid had his hands full. He recalled, "People left their jobs, came home, packed their cars and their children. And I remember standing on the corner and cars zipping past me and people hollering out the window, 'Watch the town.' ...Things were starting to get a little hectic." As he tried to calm the frayed nerves of Middletown citizens, Reid also had to take measures to make sure no one took advantage of the disruption.