Born in Dulwich the son of a shoemaker, he won a scholarship to Edinburgh College of Art where ih studied under William Ghillies in the late 1930s. After active service with the artillery in Italy Reid joined the staff of the Tate in 1946. He was appointed the right-hand man of the then Director, John Rothenstein, becoming deputy director in 1954 and keeper in 1959. He was appointed Director when Rothenstein retired in 1964. His tenure saw the expansion of the 'North East Quadrant' of the old gallery the expansion of the collection in the area of early twentieth-century European art. In 1972, the Tate purchased Equivalent VIII, a 1966 work by American sculptor Carl Andre which consisted of a stack of 120 ready-made fire bricks – the ensuing press hostility caused great embarrassment, overshadowing the remainder of his career. His artistic training allowed him to forge strong personal relationships with artists that led to significant donations – Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals being perhaps the best known. Barbara Hepworth (Reid later acted as one of her executors), Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo and Henry Moore all gifted works to the Tate out of their personal respect for Reid. He is widely regarded as the foremost of the Tate's Directors, having developed the gallery into a first rank international museum. Reid’s work is represented in the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.