Michael L. Reid, longtime Ditka’s manager, booster of gay softball leagues, dead at 65

He greeted thousands at the old Ditka’s on Chestnut Street in the Gold Coast.

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Michael L. Reid

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Michael L. Reid was the only employee at Ditka’s restaurant who could razz its most important client: Da Coach himself, Mike Ditka.

Mr. Reid, a server-turned-manager who greeted customers at the Gold Coast institution, might have pointed out a few additional gray hairs in Ditka’s famous mustache.

“You still work here?” Ditka might have countered.

They kept the shtick going for years, and there was a reason Mr. Reid could get away with it.

He was an unimpeachable mensch, said Paul Woodard, a partner in the restaurant group that owned the eatery before it closed in 2020.

“He had unbelievable joy to himself,” Woodard said. “Everyone looked at Michael like he was their uncle. He was there when the restaurant opened in 1993 and when it closed. And he watched over everybody and cared about them in an impactful way, where people would confide in him because he’d help you through tough times.

“And he thrived at Ditka’s. He knew all the regulars, where they sat, what they ate and drank, where they summered, their kids’ names. He had the hospitality gene. Some people are born with it, and Michael definitely was.”

Mr. Reid, who was known for his smile, died June 11 after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.

Mr. Reid, a broad and mighty figure, was a proud member of the cheerleading squad during his time at The Ohio State University and would regularly and loudly start, or finish, the “OH” or “IO” call and response that alumni and supporters belt out in each other’s presence. He cheered at the Rose Bowl, the Gator Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.

“He really was a cheerleader beyond that,” said Danny Tag, a close friend and former softball teammate in a league run by the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association, which primarily includes gay and lesbian athletes on its rosters. “He always made people feel like they were important and was effusive in his praise of you. And I felt like he was my personal cheerleader.”

Jason Messinger, Mr. Reid’s husband, said that when the couple first started seeing each other years ago, he was surprised to learn that “Leave It to Beaver” was Mr. Reid’s favorite television show.

“I was, like, ‘That’s crazy, it’s so corny.’ But then I was, like, ‘Oh, my goodness, every single lesson of ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do’ is in that show,” Messinger said. “And that’s kind of how he lived. He had a fundamental sense of right and wrong. He was a great guy.”

Carlos Valentin, a former server at Ditka’s, said Mr. Reid would invite him and his son to drive from their home in Indiana and stay the weekend at his condo on DuSable Lake Shore Drive so the two could swim in the building’s pool.

“He was just the nicest man,” Valentin said. “Sometimes before our shift at Ditka’s, I’d sit down at the piano in the hotel lobby of the building that the restaurant was in and play a little jazz tune, and he just loved that.”

Mr. Reid was known for pumping employees up before inviting customers into Ditka’s by gathering the staff around and telling them, “We’re going to be busy!” — emphasizing “bizzzzeeeeeeee.”

Many friends and colleagues thought Mr. Reid looked a lot like the actor Danny Glover — well known for his role in the “Lethal Weapon” movies as Roger Murtaugh alongside Mel Gibson’s character Martin Riggs.

“We’d always be yelling ‘Riggs! Riggs!’ like Danny Glover did when he was in crisis mode in the movie,” Valentin said.

“He’d tell people ‘Sure, I look like Danny Glover but a much younger Danny Glover,” said Messinger, an artist.

Mr. Reid met any number of celebrities and professional athletes who came into Ditka’s, but he never met Glover, his husband said.

Mr. Reid grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and helped form a gay softball league in Columbus before moving to Chicago.

He was inducted into the Columbus Lesbian and Gay Softball Association Hall of Fame in 2019. He also received the James R. Brodie Award for outstanding sportsmanship in 2017 from the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association. And in 2009 his team went to Dallas and won a Gay Softball World Series, which is hosted by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance. He also enjoyed competing in gay bowling leagues.

In accordance with his wishes, friends are planning a celebration of life in the form of a disco dance party.

“All the families he’s made will be invited, from cheerleading to softball and Ditka’s,” Messinger said. “It’s will be a big positive thing. That was Mike’s whole vibe.”

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