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Robert Rice Reynolds

Robert Rice Reynolds (June 18, 1884 – February 13, 1963) was a Democratic US senator from North Carolina from 1932 and 1945. Almost from the outset of his Senate career, "Our Bob," as he was known among his local supporters,[1] acquired distinction as a passionate isolationist and increasingly as an apologist for Nazi aggression in Europe. Even after America's entry into World War II, according to a contemporary study of subversive elements in America, he "publicly endorsed the propaganda efforts of Gerald L. K. Smith," whose scurrilous publication The Cross and the Flag "violently assailed the United States war effort and America's allies."[2] One of the nation's most influential fascists, Smith likewise collaborated with Reynolds on The Defender, an antisemitic newspaper that was partly owned by Reynolds.[3]

Robert Rice Reynolds
Robert Rice Reynolds.jpg
United States Senator
from North Carolina
In office
December 5, 1932 – January 3, 1945
Preceded byCameron A. Morrison
Succeeded byClyde R. Hoey
Personal details
Born(1884-06-18)June 18, 1884
Asheville, North Carolina
DiedFebruary 13, 1963(1963-02-13) (aged 78)
Asheville, North Carolina
Political partyDemocrat
Frances Jackson
(m. 1910; died 1913)

Mary Bland
(m. 1914; div. 1917)

Denise D'Arcy (m. 1921–1929)

Eva Brady
(m. 1931; died 1934)

Evalyn W. McLean
(m. 1941; died 1946)
ResidenceFriendship estate
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina
UNC Law School

Reynolds occasionally turned over his Senate office facilities to subversive propagandists and allowed them to use his franking to mail their literature postage-free.[4]

Early lifeEdit

He was born on June 18, 1884 in Asheville, North Carolina at his family's estate, the Reynolds House. He was the son of William Taswell Reynolds (1850–1892) and Mamie Elizabeth Spears (1862–1939).[5] He was descended from a family of Revolutionary War heroes and pioneers, politicians, and property owners,[6] including his maternal great-grandfather, Colonel Daniel Smith, a Revolutionary War hero of the Battle of Kings Mountain.[5] His siblings included George Spears Reynolds (1881–1924) and Jane Reynolds Wood (1888–1927).

Reynolds attended public and private schools, including Weaver College, a preparatory school,[5] before entering the University of North Carolina. While at UNC, he played football, ran track, and was the editor of the sports section of The Daily Tar Heel. He left UNC without a degree, but he was still accepted at the University of North Carolina School of Law. He did not officially enroll, but attended lectures and was eventually admitted to the Bar in North Carolina, in 1908.[6]

Early careerEdit

After passing the bar exam, Reynolds began practicing in Asheville with his brother. He was elected prosecuting attorney, serving from 1910 to 1914, and during World War I, registered for military service. He was never drafted but briefly served in the National Guard. In 1924, he ran for Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, losing to J. Elmer Long in the Democratic primary.[6]

In 1926, Reynolds first ran for the US Senate, but was unsuccessful. He ran again in 1932 and defeated former Governor and interim Senator Cameron Morrison in the Democratic primary runoff by nearly two-to-one after running a particularly nasty, populist campaign in which he accused Morrison of being a Communist sympathizer.[6] During one campaign speech, he proclaimed, "Cam likes fish eggs, and Red Russian fish eggs at that. Don't you want a Senator who likes North Carolina hen eggs?"[5]

US SenateEdit

In his first term, Reynolds was in favor of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and believed that it provided much-needed jobs for his North Carolinans. That allowed the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to be built. Reynolds favored taxing the wealthy and imposing regulations on the economy. In addition, he supported Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Works Progress Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which raised tobacco prices. Reynolds initially supported Roosevelt's Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 to pack the Supreme Court but later joined other Democrats in sending it back to the Judiciary Committee, effectively killing the bill.[6]

Reynolds was an advocate of "Fortress America" and supported a strong national defense, the expansion of the Navy, and an increase in the size of the Army and Air Force. He vociferously opposed Roosevelt's efforts to revise the Neutrality Acts. Reynolds and Senator John Overton of Louisiana, were the only senators from the South to vote against repeal of the arms embargo. Therefore, during his 1938 re-election campaign, Roosevelt recruited Franklin W. Hancock, Jr. to oppose Reynolds in the Democratic primary, but Reynolds won handily.[7]

In 1941, Reynolds became chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs.[8] A confidential 1943 analysis of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Isaiah Berlin for the British Foreign Office stated that Reynolds[9]

is exceptional among Southerners, in that he is a bitter Isolationist of a disreputable kind. His Anglophobia is proverbial and his journal The Vindicator is a low-grade Fascist sheet. He is distrusted by the majority of his colleagues and his assumption of the chairmanship of the Military Affairs Committee (by seniority) was universally regarded as disastrous outside his own circle of chauvinist demagogues. His State produces cotton and tobacco and he, therefore, votes for reciprocal trade pacts.

By 1944, the Democratic Party had had enough of Reynolds and chose former Governor Clyde R. Hoey to seek Reynolds's seat in the primary. As a result, Reynolds did not seek reelection. Hoey won the primary and went on to win the general election in a landslide victory over a Republican opponent. Reynolds did seek to return to the Senate in 1950,[10] but he was by now hopelessly discredited and won only 10% in the Democratic primary, behind Frank Porter Graham and Willis Smith.

Later lifeEdit

After leaving public life, Reynolds practiced law and real estate until his death, in Asheville. He wrote the book Gypsy Trails, Around the World in an Automobile; Asheville, NC: Advocate Publishing Company (presumed date 1923).[11]

Personal lifeEdit

Reynolds married five times throughout his life and had four children. His first marriage was in 1910 to Frances Jackson (1889–1913). Before her death from Typhoid fever in 1913, they had two children together:[5]

  • Frances Jackson Reynolds (1910–1955)
  • Robert Rice Reynolds, Jr. (1913–1950)

In 1914, he married 17-year-old Mary Bland (b. 1897). Less than a year after their marriage, he left his new wife and their child. Before their divorce in 1917 and her three subsequent marriages,[12] they had one daughter together:[5]

In 1921, he married, for the third time, Denise D'Arcy, a French woman he met in New York.[5] Reynolds met D'Arcy while he was traveling around the country in his truck and accidentally struck her as she crossed the street. Within five days, he had announced that they had fallen in love and were going to get married. The marriage dissolved after one year, and D'Arcy obtained a legal separation from Reynolds in 1922 and moved back to France. The divorce was ultimately finalized in 1929.[12]

On February 27, 1931, he married for the fourth time to Eva Brady (1898–1934), a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer from Chicago,[5] who came to Asheville looking for a cure for tuberculosis. Eva died on December 13, 1934.[12]

On October 9, 1941, 57-year-old Reynolds married for the fifth and final time to 19-year-old Evalyn Washington McLean (1921–1946),[13] daughter of Edward B. McLean, the former publisher and owner of the Washington Post, and Evalyn Walsh McLean, owner of the Hope Diamond.[14] Together, they had one daughter:[15]

  • Mamie Spears Reynolds (1942–2014), an owner and driver for the Reynolds Racing Team of Asheville, the first woman to qualify for the Daytona 500, and co-owner of the ABA Kentucky Colonels professional basketball team.[16] In 1963, she married Luigi Chinetti, and Italian racecar driver, and divorced two years later.[17]

On September 20, 1946, his wife, Evalyn, died of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills,[18] which some believe is a result of the Hope Diamond curse.[19]


Reynolds died of cancer on February 13, 1963 at Reynolds House in Asheville.[20]


  1. ^ See "Buncombe Bob," by Arthur L. Shelton, in The American Mercury, October 1932, at p. 140-47, for a portrait of his senatorial years.
  2. ^ Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn, Sabotage, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1942, p. 249.
  3. ^ Charles Higham, American Swastika, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, N.Y., 1985, p. 52.
  4. ^ Sayers and Kahn, pp. 193, 227.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Pleasants, Julian M. (1994). "Reynolds, Robert Rice | NCpedia". North Carolina Encyclopedia. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e Platt, Rorin. "Senator Robert Rice Reynolds: An Atypical Tar Heel Politician and Isolationist". North Carolina History Project. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  7. ^ Pleasants, Julian M. Buncombe Bob: The Life & Times of Robert Rice Reynolds. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000; American National Biography; Dictionary of American Biography; Reynolds, Robert Rice. Gypsy Trails. Asheville: Advocate Publishing Co., 1923.
  8. ^ "REYNOLDS POST APPROVED; Senate Sanctions His Chairmanship of Military Committee". The New York Times. May 17, 1941. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  9. ^ Hachey, Thomas E. (Winter 1973–1974). "American Profiles on Capitol Hill: A Confidential Study for the British Foreign Office in 1943" (PDF). Wisconsin Magazine of History. 57 (2): 141–153. JSTOR 4634869. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-21. The scholar who, in 1973, edited and analyzed Berlin's report described his allegations regarding Reynolds' sympathy to fascism as "both intemperate and gratuitous."
  10. ^ "REYNOLDS, Robert Rice - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  11. ^ World Catalog
  12. ^ a b c d Pleasants, Julian M. (July 11, 2003). Buncombe Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Rice Reynolds. Chapel Hill: Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807861073. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  13. ^ "MRS. EVALYN REYNOLDS FOUND DEAD IN ROOM". The New York Times. September 21, 1946. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  14. ^ Lewiston Daily Sun - October 10, 1941
  15. ^ "Senator Reynolds a Father". The New York Times. October 16, 1942. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  16. ^ News & Observer
  17. ^ Tuscaloosa News, October 10, 1965
  18. ^ "Mrs. Reynolds' Death Accidental". The New York Times. October 4, 1946. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  19. ^ Staff (May 1, 1947). "' Unlucky' M'Lean Hope Diamond Left in Trust for Grandchildren Gem Will Be Worn No More for at Least 20 Years — Sons Inherit Walsh Estate — Reynolds Gets Life Use of 'Friendship'". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  20. ^ "Robert R. Reynolds Dies; in Senate for 12 Years". The New York Times. February 15, 1963. Retrieved 24 October 2016.

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