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 theindustry. 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.”
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.
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‘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, 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 , 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. senatorin the 1966 Democratic primary, Reynolds knew he had to improve his standing with the moderate faction led by Robertson’s victorious opponent, 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.
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 hisopponent in the general election. With a Republican, , 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.
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.
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‘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.