About Nancy Susan Reynolds (1910-1985) Daughter of R.J. Reynolds and sibling of Zachary Smith Reynolds

Nancy Susan Reynolds Awards

Nancy Susan Reynolds

Nancy Susan Reynolds was born a century ago, in 1910, the third of four children of Katharine Smith Reynolds and R.J. Reynolds. Theirs was an exceptional life: Mr. Reynolds had built a successful tobacco company, and Mrs. Reynolds had helped design and then managed their new Winston-Salem estate, Reynolda, with a beautiful home and garden and a model farm that taught new agricultural practices in the region. But when Nancy was eight years old, her father died; six years later, she lost her mother; and in 1932 her younger brother, Zachary Smith, died in his twenty-first year.

The family legacy, thus, was one of great wealth and great loss. What were the family members to make of it all? For more than seven decades, they have looked for ways to make North Carolina the beneficiary of many gifts.

Today, Reynolda House Museum of American Art and Reynolda Gardens are open to hundreds of thousands of visitors. The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, named in honor of the brother who died young, makes grants to public and private organizations and institutions addressing many of the state's most important needs. With Nancy Susan Reynolds' death in 1985, Foundation trustees established the Nancy Susan Reynolds Awards for exemplary and often unsung leadership in communities throughout North Carolina.

Who, then, was Nancy Susan Reynolds? A shy woman who deliberately lived out of the limelight. A generous woman whose personal gifts, often anonymous, amounted to more than $100 million. A founding member, president, and life-time trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, who had the courage to take risks and the patience to allow people to make mistakes, start over, and strengthen their skills and their resolve.

For example, her backing and the Foundation's support of the North Carolina Fund in 1965 gave then-Governor Terry Sanford the go-ahead to create one of the nation's most successful efforts in the War on Poverty. As it has done since its founding in 1936, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation continues to help North Carolinians find ways to make the state a better place for all peoples.

Nancy Susan Reynolds, a little-known woman, had something essential in common with America's best-known women, Eleanor Roosevelt. The poet Archibald MacLeish observed about Mrs. Roosevelt, "She always responded in her human person... It was her being that counted."

North Carolina's state motto, "To be rather than to seem," is a large, abstract idea that can best be understood when it is rooted in an individual life. Nancy Susan Reynolds lived a life of authenticity. It was her being that counted. The Nancy Susan Reynolds Awards recognize individuals who respond in their human person to unmet community needs and issues of injustice and inequality to make a difference wherever they serve.

Eleanor Roosevelt, MacLeish said, was famous not because she was married to the President or because she held popular opinions. She was famous "for herself ... It was her response to her time." Nancy Susan Reynolds responded to her time and left a legacy that is timeless.

As the Nancy Susan Reynolds Awards honored 82 recipients from 1986-2010, we can all take satisfaction in the fact that so many North Carolinians have lived up to Nancy Reynolds' dream of leaving the world a better place.

- Emily Herring Wilson