I grew up at the center of the R.J. Reynolds industry in North Carolina. As a child of the 1960s, I saw tobacco as benign; even in my young mind I understood it as an economic driver. Working for R.J. Reynolds was broadly understood as the most profitable job for the middle to upper classes in Winston-Salem. The reputation wasn’t about tobacco, it was about the benefits to employees. Not until recently did I fully appreciate what Reynolds had done for the regional economy beginning in the early 20th century (continuing even today) and what his wife Katharine, in turn, had done for the company employees, social reform, and then art and education. She named the family estate, Reynolda House, which years later would open to the public as one of the best museums for American art in the United States.
I realized when visiting the museum that my undergraduate education was possible because of her philanthropic vision. I was privileged to be a recipient of the coveted Katharine Smith Reynolds Scholarship, which financed my entire undergraduate education. Katharine spent three years (beginning in 1897) at what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, formerly known as the Woman’s College, where she adopted the radical notion that educated women could change the world.
The Reynolda House was completed in 1917, the same year that saw the completion of the Reynolds Tobacco building now located on the University of Kentucky’s campus. It was also the year when Richard Joshua (R.J.) Reynolds became gravely ill, dying later in 1918 after a lifetime driven by philanthropy.
In 2015 when I first arrived in Lexington, an early stop was in front of the Reynolds Building at 349 Scott Street. There was rapid rumor of its demolition. I stood and looked up at the engraved lintel over the front door, revisiting my personal history with the Reynolds legacy: adaptive reuse… from economic engine to empowering workers to philanthropy to education.
Now we reimagine Reynolds — the building — aiming to celebrate the economic history and the philanthropic spirit of R.J. and Katharine Smith Reynolds by recasting it for design education. We preserve history to learn from it and to reuse it. We adapt.
Please join us in celebrating this moment of opportunity for the College of Design. Help us build a sustainable and energizing atmosphere for future generations of students. It is the gift that continues to give; my small story is a testament to that life cycle.
We will do what we do best: design, build, preserve, and educate. This new opportunity will ensure the continued elevation of the College as a community partner and economic driver for the greater Commonwealth.
Mitzi R. Vernon, Dean
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Dean Vernon in the unfiltered and pre-transformed Reynolds Building, Fall 2018. Photo by Shaun Ring.