Richard Joshua Reynolds, Jr. (1906-1964), son of the founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, was a very successful businessman. He was involved with a variety of business ventures throughout his lifetime, and was also a generous philanthropist and active politician. Reynolds spent much of his fortune on a lavish personal lifestyle, but also founded several charitable organizations and contributed to many more.
Richard Joshua Reynolds, Jr., was born on April 4, 1906, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Richard Joshua Reynolds and Mary Katherine (Smith) Reynolds. His father had started a tobacco company in the 1870s, which was formally established as the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1890. This company, which is now a part of the RJR-Nabisco Corporation, produced the popular Prince Albert tobacco and Camel cigarettes. By the time Reynolds, Jr., was born, his father was a very wealthy man, and the Reynolds name was well known in Winston-Salem.
Reynolds attended public schools in Winston-Salem as well as Culver Military Academy in Indiana, the Tome School in Maryland, and Woodberry Forest in Virginia. After graduation from high school, he studied mechanical engineering and played football at North Carolina State College. His first business venture involved the establishment of a weekly local newspaper titled The Three-Cent Pup, which he started in 1917 with his friends Bill Sharpe and Bosley Crowther.
Reynolds had a strong interest in aviation and, at the age of 18, obtained his pilot's license. He was convinced that air passenger and freight transport held great economic opportunity and purchased Curtiss Field (later Roosevelt Field) on Long Island, New York. This was the airfield from which Charles Lindbergh took off for his famous transatlantic flight to Paris in 1927. Reynolds established the Ireland Amphibian Company of Mineola, New York, in 1926, and actively participated in the development of the first amphibian planes produced in the United States. He also served as president of Reynolds Aviation from 1927 to 1929.
At the age of 21, Reynolds gained access to a trust income of $100,000 and used it to live lavishly. He bought expensive cars, frequented fashionable cafes in New York, and showered women with extravagant gifts. In 1927, he mysteriously disappeared, generating rumors that something had happened to him. He was later found in St. Louis, where he had gone with a woman. He paid for his boisterous lifestyle when, in 1929, he killed a man while driving drunk. Reynolds was convicted of manslaughter and spent five months in jail. He bought an 1800-ton steam freighter and, from 1929 to 1932, captained the ship throughout the seas of North and South America and southern Europe.
Reynolds returned to Winston-Salem in 1932, and on January 1, 1933, married Elizabeth McGaw Dillard, daughter of another tobacco tycoon. Before divorcing in 1946, the couple had four sons: Richard Joshua, III, John Dillard, Zachary Taylor, and William Neil.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, Reynolds participated in a variety of business ventures. In 1935, he established Precision Films, Inc., a laboratory that developed color motion picture film, and served as president of the company for a time. In 1940, he purchased the bankrupt American Mail Line of Seattle, a shipping company, which he owned until 1951. Scrapping the old ships and building new ones, Reynolds was able to take advantage of the wartime shipping needs in the Pacific. He also saved Delta Airlines from financial troubles by buying a large share of its stock in 1940. Previously he had been a major stockholder in Eastern Airlines, but when Eastern refused to make Winston-Salem the hub of its Carolina operations, Reynolds sold some of his stock and invested instead in Delta, thus enabling Delta to remain competitive.
Reynolds began a public service career with his election as mayor of Winston-Salem in 1940. One of his goals was the clearing of the slums. Despite opposition from local slumlords, Reynolds was able to obtain a grant from the U.S. Housing Authority to finance this project. His political activity was extended beyond the local level in 1941, when Reynolds became chairman of the finance committee for the national Democratic Party.
His political activities were interrupted when Reynolds joined the U.S. Navy at the start of World War II. He served as chief navigator on the USS Makin Island and later was awarded the Bronze Star for the navigational skill he exhibited at Iwo Jima and in the Philippines. He was released to inactive duty in 1945 with the rank of lieutenant commander. After the war he took full financial responsibility for the production of a publication titled The Escort Carriers in Action, a volume of photographs and text that described the activities of warships in the Pacific. His contributions also included the donation of his own yacht to the Navy.
On August 7, 1946, Reynolds married Marianne O'Brien, an actress. He had two sons with O'Brien, Patrick Cleaveland and Michael Randolph. (Ironically, Patrick would later become known for his campaign against the tobacco industry and establishment of the anti-smoking group, Citizens for a Smoke-free America.) The couple divorced in 1952, and Reynolds remarried the same year to Muriel (Marston) Greenough in McIntosh County, Georgia. His third marriage lasted eight years, after which time Reynolds was divorced once again. His fourth and final marriage was to Annemarie Schmitt, whom he married in Muralto, Switzerland, on July 10, 1961 (some sources say 1963). She and Reynolds had a daughter, Irene Sabina, who was born two days after her father's death in 1964.
As a philanthropist, Reynolds contributed to many causes. In 1936, he and his sisters founded the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSRF), created from the estate of their brother, Zachary S. Reynolds. Reynolds' brother was shot to death in 1932, but the perpetrator was never identified. Reynolds served as president of this foundation, which contributed funds to many health-related and educational causes in the Carolinas and Georgia. The ZSRF's first major project was a program to combat syphilis, a common disease in the south. Later the federal government modeled a national campaign after the ZSRF program.
Reynolds also established the Sapelo Island Research Foundation (SIRF) at the University of Georgia in 1949. It was developed for the furthering of scientific research, specifically in the fields of marine biology, oceanography, and limnology. Other organizations that benefitted from Reynolds' generosity included the New York Maritime College in the Bronx and Wake Forest University, which was moved to a new campus in Winston-Salem (formerly part of the Reynolds' estate) in 1956. Reynolds also served as a trustee of the University of North Carolina. He helped fund several capital projects in Winston-Salem, including Tanglewood Park, Reynolds Park, Smith-Reynolds Airport, the Forsyth Country Club, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Wachovia Historical Society, and the City and Baptist hospitals. In 1948, Reynolds donated his family home to Winston-Salem for a library. In Darien, a town near his Georgia home, he contributed to the construction of an American Legion hall, a gymnasium for an African American public school, and a swimming pool.
Reynolds had a wide range of interests, including poetry, yacht racing, sailing, trotting horses, and skeet shooting. He was a member of the Reynolds Presbyterian Church and the New York Yacht Club. Reynolds was also a participant in many other groups and organizations, including the Quiet Birdmen of America and the Royal Ocean Racing Club of London, England. He maintained residences in North Carolina, New York, Florida, Georgia, and Europe, although he always considered his 44,000-acre estate on Sapelo Island, Georgia, to be his "real" home.
Reynolds' last years were characterized by some rather eccentric behavior. While living on Sapelo Island with his third wife, he constructed a pond that was to represent the world's oceans and the seven continents. It was rumored that Reynolds buried bags of gold in his backyard. Dissatisfied with his life in America and troubled by his turbulent family relationships, Reynolds settled in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1962. Before leaving, he called his four oldest sons together and reprimanded them for living off the family fortune rather than holding down jobs. Reynolds deeded most of his land at Sapelo to the SIRF, sold off his American assets, gave up his board membership with Delta Airlines, and dug up the bags of gold from his backyard in Georgia. Reynolds died on December 14, 1964, in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Although a major stockholder in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the only time Reynolds participated in the family business was when he served as director from 1942 to 1947. He was never employed by the company. However, he certainly made his mark in many other business ventures and helped many charitable causes, especially in his home states of North Carolina and Georgia.
American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and>Mark C. Carnes, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Business Leader Profiles for Students, edited by Sheila M. Dow, Gale, 1999.
National Cyclopedia of American Biography, James T. White, 1971.