Honoring the Legacy of Jay Rea, Longtime EWU Archivist

Jay Rea, longtime EWU Archivist, former EWU Foundation Board member and former president and secretary-treasurer of the EWU Retirees Association, died on Saturday, April 18, 2020. He was 84.

Rea began his storied Eastern career in 1970 working in the library. After serving in various librarian appointments along the way, he served as Collection Management Librarian and University Archivist before retiring in 1998 after 28 years of service.

“He was such a good man with a wonderful heart and a sharp mind,” remembers EWU retiree Carol King, who managed EWU Libraries’ annual fundraiser, Oktoberfest, to which Rea was always a generous donor.

“Jay had a deep knowledge and love of the university and his commitment to it, and to his fellow faculty as a founding champion of the EWU Retiree’s Association, extended long after his ‘official’ retirement,” says Laura Thayer of the EWU Foundation.

Among his career highlights, Rea served as regional Archivist for the Washington State Archives (1973-1990) after the state placed a branch on campus. Rea was also appointed by the governor to the Washington State Historical Records Advisory Board (1977-1998). In addition to these responsibilities, Rea was an active scholar, writing and publishing a biography of Ceylon Samuel Kingston, a history instructor at Cheney State Normal School. He also wrote a proposal for, and was director of, a $45,000 grant by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to appraise, arrange and describe the records of the city of Spokane. 

But his work at Eastern has brought back a stream of memories about a man who loved to golf, told great stories and paid attention to details, big and small.

“When I first started working in the archives, I would occasionally borrow a pair of scissors or a stapler,” remembers Steven Bingo, Digital Projects Archivist for EWU Libraries. “In the course of doing many things at once, sometimes I would forget to put the item back. After fessing up the first time, Jay made a point to showing me to his office and ‘introducing’ me to his workspace. He said something to the effect of, ‘This is where the scissors go and this is where they shall be returned.'”

Even after retirement, Rea remained heavily involved in all things Eastern. In addition to his long service on the Foundation Board (2008-2017) and EWURA, Rae was an avid Eastern athletics fan, holding season tickets in basketball and football. Over the years, he could still be seen walking through the halls of Hargreaves—usually with his Seattle Mariners hat on—to say hello to folks in the foundation office. Or he’d pop into the library to see how his “people” were doing.

Rea also stepped up to share tributes to the person he mentored to take his position, Charles Mutschler, who tragically died in a car crash in early 2019. The two had previously collaborated to write the Chronology of the History of Eastern Washington University.

Perhaps his biggest legacy was his longtime support of the library. And in his own words, Jay Rea once explained why it’s important to give back.

“The bottom line is that state funds and tuition are not sufficient to meet the expanding needs. That is why I have supported Oktoberfest and have invested in a charitable gift annuity with the EWU Foundation, which will benefit the Library’s endowment fund.”

Jay Rea

EWU Libraries plans to include some of Rea’s work, including speeches, in the EWU Libraries Digital Commons.

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