J. Sargeant Reynolds (1936–1971)


J. Sargeant Reynolds was a member of the House of Delegates (1966–1967) and the Senate of Virginia (1968–1969) and was the lieutenant governor of Virginia (1970–1971). The son of industrialist Richard S. Reynolds Jr., he enjoyed the advantages of wealth and social position, but used his privilege to advocate for the less fortunate. Reynolds positioned himself as a moderate and won support across the political spectrum despite his more liberal goals, which included education improvement, economic development, and equal opportunity regardless of race. The Virginia Democrats‘ most promising candidate for the 1973 gubernatorial race, Reynolds was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in the summer of 1970. After undergoing radiation treatments, he was able to preside over the state senate in January 1971. That April, at a whites-only political gathering in Southside Virginia, he denounced the Byrd Organization‘s Massive Resistance policy and defiance of United States Supreme Court decisions such as Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina (1971), which upheld the busing of schoolchildren for the purpose of desegregation. Thereafter, his health declined: further radiation treatments weakened his immune system, and he contracted pneumonia. He died on June 13, 1971, at age thirty-four.

Early Years

Julian Sargeant Reynolds was born in New York City on June 30, 1936. He was the son of Richard Samuel Reynolds Jr. and Virginia McDonald Reynolds, and the grandson of Richard Samuel Reynolds Sr., founder of Reynolds Metals Company. Reynolds Metals specialized in creating aluminum foil that cigarette companies used for packaging and in 1938 moved to Richmond to be closer to the tobacco industry. The Reynoldses followed. In Virginia, Reynolds attended St. Christopher’s School in Richmond and completed secondary school at Woodberry Forest in Madison County. He spent three semesters at Princeton University before transferring to the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1956 Reynolds married Elizabeth Weir Veeneman, with whom he would have four children. (They would divorce in 1969.) After graduating with a degree in economics from the Wharton School in 1958, Reynolds joined the market research department of the family business. He quickly ascended the corporate ladder and was elected assistant treasurer of the company by 1961—about the same time he began to cultivate his interest in politics. In 1965 he began teaching economics part-time at the University of Richmond. An avid student of the subject, he desired to improve his speaking skills by teaching. But, as he revealed in a letter written while he was lieutenant governor, teaching had a deeper significance for him. Teaching had changed the course of his life at “a very difficult time,” he wrote. “In teaching I found a satisfaction and a happiness with young people that allowed me to go into politics, but more importantly into the real current of life.”

Political Career

Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr. and President Johnson

Reynolds became more politically involved early in the 1960s—a time of transition in Virginia, as the Byrd Organization, the conservative political machine that had dominated state politics since 1922, began its decline. In 1964 Reynolds was elected president of the Richmond chapter of the Young Democrats and chosen as state coordinator for the Young Citizens for Lyndon B. Johnson. His experience campaigning for Johnson led him, in 1965 at age twenty- nine, to seek a seat in the House of Delegates. A master political strategist, Reynolds wrote his own speeches and prepared the advertising copy for his campaign. Running for one of eight “floater” seats representing Richmond and Henrico County, he finished second in the Democratic primary and led the ticket in the general election. In 1967, he won an open seat representing Richmond in the Senate of Virginia.

Governor Doug Wilder's Inauguration

Reynolds saw himself as a moderate, although some considered him a liberal because of the alliances he formed with the African American community. He built a relationship with the Richmond Crusade for Voters, an organization that promoted black participation in Richmond politics, and specifically with one of the group’s three founders, Dr. William Ferguson Reid. Later, after being elected lieutenant governor, Reynolds would endorse Democrat L. Douglas Wilder‘s bid for his seat in the state senate, helping to launch a political career that culminated in Wilder’s election to the office of governor in 1989—the first African American in the United States to be elected to that position.

But Reynolds’s support of and advocacy for the African American community did not estrange him from his political peers; rather, Reynolds had the noteworthy ability to take liberal positions on certain issues without alienating moderate and conservative Democrats. Though fiscally conservative, he was strongly committed to improving education and economic development. He supported the legislative program of Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr., including a sales tax, which he saw as indispensable to progress in education. He opposed, however, the application of the tax to food and nonprescription drugs, and criticized the distribution formula, which he believed was unfair to the urban areas of the state. Reynolds believed that the pay-as-you-go system of state finance, originally endorsed by Harry F. Byrd Sr., should be abandoned in favor of the issuance of general obligation bonds for higher education and mental health facilities. He strongly advocated the creation of a system of community colleges, a new state university in Richmond, and increased emphasis on developing the port of Hampton Roads.

Reynolds worked to strengthen the moderate faction in the weakened Virginia Democratic Party. In 1968 he led a moderate-liberal coalition that replaced the very conservative leadership of the Third Congressional District Democratic Committee. Because he had supported the Byrd Organization’s U.S. senator A. Willis Robertson in the 1966 Democratic primary, Reynolds knew he had to improve his standing with the moderate faction led by Robertson’s victorious opponent, William B. Spong Jr. He accomplished this in part by supporting Virginia state senator William Hopkins’s candidacy for Democratic National Committee member in 1968, even though that meant abandoning the incumbent, Sidney Kellam, who had managed President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign in Virginia and with whom Reynolds had developed a warm relationship.

Inauguration of Governor A. Linwood Holton Jr

In 1969 Reynolds emerged as a statewide political figure during his campaign for lieutenant governor of Virginia. Handsome, articulate, and wealthy, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Reynolds reminded some observers of the late President John F. Kennedy. He won the Democratic primary by such a large margin over three opponents that no run-off was required, and he easily defeated his Republican opponent in the general election. With a Republican, A. Linwood Holton, in the governor’s mansion, Reynolds was widely regarded as the likely gubernatorial nominee of Virginia’s Democratic Party in 1973.

In June 1970 Reynolds experienced the first symptoms of serious illness. At a family reunion, he collapsed after feeling tremors. He suspected he might have a brain tumor, but several physicians assured him that was not the case. After collapsing at home in August, he went to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, where he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Final Months

After undergoing radiation treatments, Reynolds was able to preside over the state senate in January 1971. That March, Reynolds visited Roanoke County‘s William Byrd High School and engaged in a vigorous give-and-take with an audience of students, many of whom would be eligible to vote in the next gubernatorial election. Melville Carrico of the Roanoke Times wrote that the visit left little doubt of Reynolds’s intention to run for governor in 1973.

On April 21, 1971, Reynolds was the principal speaker at an annual political gathering in Southside Virginia known as the Wakefield Shad Planking. Sponsored by the Ruritan Club, the event was restricted to white males. Reynolds’s decision to attend upset some African American leaders, but his purpose for doing so became clear during his speech. Before an audience that included staunch segregationists, Reynolds denounced Massive Resistance, the policy Virginia had adopted in 1956 against the desegregation of public schools. He declared that the state must guarantee each child, regardless of the circumstances of his or her birth, the education that would be most beneficial to him or her. Referencing the previous day’s United States Supreme Court ruling in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, which upheld the busing of schoolchildren for the purpose of desegregation, Reynolds declared, “It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree with that ruling. The point is that under our American system of government it stands until the Constitution is changed or the court reverses itself.” He pledged, “Virginia will not be propelled into massive resistance again.”

After the speech Reynolds’s health declined rapidly. He returned to New York for additional treatment, and when the General Assembly reconvened in May, he was unable to preside over the Senate. He contracted pneumonia and died on June 13, 1971, leaving Virginians to speculate on a promising political career cut short. Reynolds was given the first state funeral since 1893, when Confederate president Jefferson Davis‘s remains were reinterred in Richmond. He was survived by his second wife, Mary Ballou Handy; their son, Richard Roland Reynolds; and his three children by Elizabeth Weir Veeneman Reynolds. J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond is named in his honor.

June 30, 1936
In New York City, J. Sargeant Reynolds is born to Richard Samuel Reynolds Jr. and Virginia McDonald Reynolds.
Reynolds Metals Company moves its headquarters from New York City to Richmond.
J. Sargeant Reynolds graduates from Woodberry Forest School in Orange County.
September 29, 1956
J. Sargeant Reynolds marries Elizabeth Weir Veeneman in Hertford, North Carolina.
J. Sargeant Reynolds graduates from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, and begins work in the market research department of Reynolds Metals Company.
Reynolds Metals Company elects J. Sargeant Reynolds assistant treasurer.
J. Sargeant Reynolds is named the Young Democrats' state congressional campaign coordinator.
J. Sargeant Reynolds is chosen state coordinator of the Young Citizens for Lyndon Johnson and elected president of the Richmond Young Democrats.
J. Sargeant Reynolds is named executive vice-president of the Reynolds Aluminum Credit Corporation and accepts a position as part-time instructor of economics at the University of Richmond.
July 13, 1965
J. Sargeant Reynolds receives the second highest vote in the Democratic primary among candidates for eight seats in the House of Delegates representing the city of Richmond and Henrico County.
November 2, 1965
J. Sargeant Reynolds receives the highest vote in the general election among candidates for eight seats in House of Delegates district representing the city of Richmond and Henrico County.
November 7, 1965
J. Sargeant Reynolds is elected to the Senate of Virginia.
J. Sargeant Reynolds and Elizabeth Weir Veeneman Reynolds divorce.
July 15, 1969
In the Democratic primary election for lieutenant governor, J. Sargeant Reynolds receives 63.9 percent of the vote.
August 15, 1969
J. Sargeant Reynolds secretly marries Mary Ballou Handy in a civil ceremony in Frederick, Maryland. They will have a public ceremony at Richmond's Second Presbyterian Church on November 21, 1969.
November 4, 1969
In the election for lieutenant governor of Virginia, J. Sargeant Reynolds defeats Republican opponent H. Dunlop Dawbarn.
January 17, 1970
J. Sargeant Reynolds is inaugurated as lieutenant governor.
August 18, 1970
After collapsing several times, J. Sargeant Reynolds is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
January 1971
After undergoing radiation treatments, J. Sargeant Reynolds is well enough to preside over the Virginia Senate.
April 21, 1971
In a speech he gives at the Wakefield Shad Planking, a whites-only event in Southside, Virginia, J. Sargeant Reynolds denounces the Massive Resistance policy that Virginia followed after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
June 13, 1971
J. Sargeant Reynolds succumbs to pneumonia contracted while undergoing treatment at a New York hospital.
June 15, 1971
J. Sargeant Reynolds is honored with the first state funeral in Virginia since 1893, when Jefferson Davis's remains were reinterred at Hollywood Cemetery.
June 15, 1971
J. Sargeant Reynolds is buried in the family cemetery at the Reynolds's homestead at Critz in Patrick County.
March 1972
The board of the projected three-campus community college in the Richmond area chooses to name the school J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.
  • McCutcheon, Andy and Michael P. Gleason. Sarge Reynolds: In the Time of His Life: Remembering J. Sargeant Reynolds, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, 1970–1971. Richmond: Gleason Publishing, Inc., 1996
  • Transcript of Proceedings, “The Eighth Annual Virginia Political History Project—The J. Sargeant Reynolds Conference,” University of Virginia Center for Politics and Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, July 22, 2005.
APA Citation:
Sweeney, James. J. Sargeant Reynolds (1936–1971). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/reynolds-j-sargeant-1936-1971.
MLA Citation:
Sweeney, James. "J. Sargeant Reynolds (1936–1971)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 23 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.