Reynolds, R.J., Jr.

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Reynolds, R.J., Jr.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company


A son of the founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Richard Joshua Reynolds Jr. was successful in endeavors outside the tobacco industry despite a rather colorful personal life. He was a businessman and philanthropist who helped worthy causes, particularly in his home state of North Carolina and in Georgia. He was the founder of the Sapelo Island Research Foundation (SIRF) at the University of Georgia. According to his obituary in the New York Times in 1964, Reynolds was "an enigmatic combination of playboy, politician, financier, and philanthropist."

Personal Life

Reynolds was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on April 4, 1906, to R.J. and Katherine (Smith) Reynolds. His father was a pioneer in the tobacco industry who had consolidated many smaller firms into R.J. Reynolds Tobacco between 1870 and 1920, producing such popular name-brands as Prince Albert tobacco and Camel cigarettes. The Reynolds family fast became prominent in Winston-Salem.

As a youth, R.J. Jr. attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana, the Tome School in Maryland, and Woodberry Forest in Virginia. As a teenager, while still awaiting the large inheritance from his father, which he would receive at age 28, he worked in a cigarette factory and once ran away from home to work on a freighter that ran between New York and Hamburg, Germany. For less than a year, he attended North Carolina State College, where he played football.

During the late 1920s, Reynolds was known as a man-about-town in New York City, frequenting fashionable cafes and occasionally financing Broadway plays. At the age of 21, though not yet able to get his full inheritance, he had access to a trust income of $100,000; he used much of the money for buying expensive cars and airplanes, drinking, and buying extravagant presents for women. In 1927, he mysteriously disappeared, giving rise to sensational newspaper stories about suspected foul play. He was finally discovered in St. Louis, where he had gone with a woman. He told reporters that he had just taken a small vacation. Vowing not to return to Winston-Salem for seven years (when he would come into his inheritance), Reynolds then sailed to Europe.

In 1929, while driving drunk, he caused a man's death and spent five months in jail after being convicted for manslaughter. Another unpleasant chapter in Reynolds's life was the shooting death of his brother, Zachary Smith Reynolds, at the Reynolds estate in Winston-Salem in 1932. His brother's wife, singer Libby Holman, and a longtime friend of Zachary were indicted for the murder, but the charges were dropped. Reynolds was not at home at the time of the shooting.

During World War II, he gave up his political jobs as finance director of the National Democratic Party and mayor of Winston-Salem to enter the U.S. Navy, even donating his own yacht to the Navy. He served as a navigator aboard the USS Makin Island and saw action in the Battle of the Philippines and at Iwo Jima and Leyte. During the Philippine battle, which supported General Douglas MacArthur's return to the Philippines, Reynolds's ship emerged unscathed despite the extreme danger from Japanese kamikaze planes. His skill as a navigator was highly praised by his superiors.

During the worst fighting of the war at Iwo Jima, Reynolds's ship again came under heavy fire but again escaped kamikaze hits. For his actions in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima, Reynolds later received the Bronze Star. Serving with the Seventh Fleet after the war, he personally took on the project of sending photographs of war activities to participants and their families. He held the rank of lieutenant commander upon his release from service.

Reynolds was a member of the New York Yacht Club and the Reynolds Presbyterian Church. In his spare time he enjoyed poetry, yacht racing, flying, sailing, trotting horses, farming, and skeet shooting. He maintained large homes in New York, Florida, Georgia, and Europe, but considered his 44,000-acre estate on Sapelo Island, Georgia to be his real home.

During the 1950s, he lived a rather eccentric lifestyle on Sapelo with his third wife Muriel. It was said, for example, that he had a pond built on the estate to represent the world's oceans and the seven continents; that his wife read books on the occult and burned incense to Buddha; and that Reynolds secreted $1 million in bearer bonds in a locked closet to collect cash in case the world markets collapsed. At Sapelo, he lived alone with his servants for two years following his separation from Muriel in 1959.

Toward the end of his life, Reynolds engaged in what some thought was quite erratic behavior. Dissatisfied with his lonely life in America and the threats of court appeals from his recently divorced wife, he prepared to leave the United States for Europe. He called his four older sons together to tell them of his plans, asking them to bring a family good-luck piece, handed down from his ancestors, called the Joshua Coin. A superstition held by all of the Reynolds generations was that the male heirs who possessed the coin would always have good luck. Incensed that his third wife had a diamond mounted in the middle of the coin, Reynolds ripped out the diamond and threw it into the surf. At the same time, bitter about his broken family life (despite the fact that he had chosen to have little contact with his children), he scolded his sons for living off family money instead of holding down jobs.

Reynolds then deeded most of the land at Sapelo to SIRF, sold off most of his American assets, and gave up his seat on the Delta Airlines board of directors. In a final bizarre ending to his life at Sapelo, he and some servants dug up bags of gold that he had earlier hidden in the woods. He spent the final two years of his life in Lucerne, Switzerland, where he died on December 14, 1964. Doctors confirmed the ironic fact that this tobacco empire heir died of emphysema, brought on by a lifetime of excessive smoking.

Reynolds married four times: in 1933, to Elizabeth McGaw Dillard, daughter of another tobacco baron, from whom he was divorced in 1946; in 1946, to Marianne O'Brien (an actress, stage name of Marian Byrne), from whom he was divorced in 1952 ; in 1952, to Muriel (Marston) Greenough, from whom he was divorced in 1960; and in 1961, to Annemarie Schmitt.

He had four sons from his first marriage: Richard Joshua, John Dillard, Zachary Taylor, and William Neil. By his second marriage he had two more sons, Patrick and Michael. (Patrick achieved notoriety in 1986 when he testified before the House of Representatives against the tobacco industry, condemning the effects of smoking and advocating additional tobacco taxes.) His fourth marriage produced a daughter, Anne Irene-Sabina, born on December 16, 1964, just after her father's death. Family dissension resulted when it was discovered that Reynolds had left the bulk of his estate to Annemarie and to SIRF; some even publicly questioned the paternity of Anne.

Career Details

Reynolds was involved in a variety of businesses throughout his life. His first brief venture as a youth was a weekly local newspaper, The Three-Cent Pup, begun in 1917 with his friends Bill Sharpe and Bosley Crowther (who later became drama critic for the New York Times). In the 1920s, after leaving college, he became interested in airplanes, forming the Ireland Amphibian Company in 1926 at Mineola, Long Island, and Reynolds Airways, Inc. He owned Curtiss Field (later renamed Roosevelt Field) on Long Island until 1929; there his employees taught prospective pilots and escorted curious tourists through the site of Charles Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic takeoff site.

Reynolds knew how to leverage his influence in other areas of the growing airline industry. He was once a major stockholder in Eastern Airlines, which ultimately failed to honor his wishes to make Winston-Salem the hub of its Carolina operations. In 1940 he had rescued Delta Airlines by buying up a large block of stock. Selling off some of his Eastern stock in 1946, he responded to a plea from Delta for additional investment, thus keeping that company in serious competition with Eastern.

Among his business successes was the reorganization of the bankrupt American Mail Line of Seattle. He bought all of American Mail Line's steamships, scrapped some of the older ones, and built new ships to take advantage of wartime shipping needs in the Pacific. In addition, he had interests in such concerns as Coca-Cola and Monsanto Chemical Corporation. He also invested in real estate and mining, among other things. He was a director of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco from 1942 to 1947 (after being denied a seat on the board in the 1930s), as well as a major stockholder for several years, but was not employed by the company.

Reynolds had political ambitions as well. He was elected mayor of Winston-Salem in 1940, soon becoming embroiled in a controversy over public housing. Reynolds had always supported slum clearance and had a special interest in improving the lot of poor southern African Americans. After an ugly confrontation with Winston-Salem slumlords, the city council voted to approve Reynolds's plan to apply for a grant from the U.S. Housing Authority. Reynolds also became chairman of the finance committee of the National Democratic Party in 1941. He lent $300,000 to the New York, New Jersey, and Illinois parties in 1940, later facing a congressional investigation for the loans. As Democratic National Committee treasurer, Reynolds and his then wife, Elizabeth (known as "Blitz"), were prominent on the Washington social scene during the first part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's third term in office.

Chronology: R. J. Reynolds, Jr.

1906: Born.

1923: Entered North Carolina State College.

1933: Married Elizabeth McGaw Dillard.

1940: Elected mayor of Winston-Salem.

1941: Named chairman of finance committee, National Democratic Party.

1942: Became a director of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

1942: Entered U.S. Navy.

1946: Married Marianne O'Brien.

1947: Ended term on the R.J. Reynolds board.

1948: Donated family home to city of Winston-Salem.

1964: Died.

Social and Economic Impact

Reynolds was known as much for his philanthropic efforts as for his business sense. Through the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSRF), founded in memory of his brother, he contributed generously to many educational institutions and health-related projects in South Carolinaand Georgia. The first substantial project of the foundation was to promote a program to combat syphilis, then a common disease in the southern states. The federal government later took on a national campaign modeled largely on the ZSRF pilot program.

Reynolds also founded and largely financed the Sapelo Island Research Foundation, a marine research facility at the University of Georgia. In addition, he made possible the removal of Wake Forest University to a new campus in Winston-Salem and became a trustee of the University of North Carolina. Wake Forest later granted him an honorary Ph.D.

In other projects, Reynolds contributed to the New York Maritime College in the Bronx and to the University of Georgia. He donated his family home to the city of Winston-Salem for a library and considerable funds for the establishment of Tanglewood Park and other capital projects, including Reynolds Park, Smith-Reynolds Airport, the Forsyth Country Club, the City and Baptist hospitals, the Young Women's Christian Association, and the Wachovia Historical Society. Near his island home in Georgia, at the town of Darien, he donated funds to construct an American Legion hall, a gymnasium for an African American public school, and a swimming pool.

With a great deal to live up to in his prominent family, he spent many years finding his identity apart from the tobacco kingdom (today, a unit of the RJR Nabisco Holdings Corporation) founded by his father. Despite his rather unconventional personal life, however, he contributed much to the business world and to causes which benefited his region and the nation.

Sources of Information

Contact at: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
401 N. Main St.
Winston-Salem, NC
Business Phone: (336)741-5000


International Directory of Company Histories. Detroit: St. James Press.

Our l00th Anniversary, 1875-1975. Winston-Salem: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, 1975.

Reynolds, Patrick, and Tom Schachtman. The Gilded Leaf: Triumph, Tragedy, and Tobacco. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1989.

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Reynolds, R.J., Jr.

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