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The Reynolds family

Reynolds family

How one family turned their tragedies into hope.

In 1966, avid flyer R. Roland Reynolds, a member of the Reynolds Metals family, was at Byrd Field preparing to take his plane for a flight. Sadly, he accidentally walked into its moving propeller.

He was rushed to what is now the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center with severe head trauma, recalled his cousin Richard S. “Major” Reynolds III, president of the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation.

“They tried to help, but there wasn’t much that could be done,” he said.

Out of that tragedy sprung hope and generosity. In 1981, the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation made the first of many gifts to VCU.

“Our giving began when that tragedy occurred,” Reynolds said. “Ultimately, we funded a chair in Roland’s name that would deal with head trauma.”

Since then, the Reynolds family has continued to support neuroscience research in VCU’s School of Medicine, making gifts totaling more than $3 million.

Other Reynolds family experiences – some heartbreaking, some with happier endings – strengthened the ties, Reynolds said.

The death of Major Reynolds’ brother also has played a part in the foundation’s generosity. Former Lt. Gov. J. Sargeant Reynolds died in 1971 at age 34 of a brain tumor while he was in office.

This summer, the foundation again moved in support of the medical school with a $1 million pledge to endow the William G. Reynolds Jr., Chair in Neuro-Oncology, which will expand options for patients with cancers of the brain and spinal cord.

“The latest step in our ongoing relationship began when my cousin Bill sadly died a little over three years ago. He had a brain tumor, like my brother,” Reynolds said. “Ultimately, it couldn’t be dealt with. He had some quality time, but it was not survivable.”

Businessman and philanthropist Bill Reynolds served the Richmond community until his 2003 death. After joining the Reynolds Co.’s law department in 1968, he rose to the post of vice president of government relations and public affairs. His community service included a three-year term on VCU’s Board of Visitors and stints as a trustee of the MCV Foundation Board and as a member of the School of Business Advisory Council.

Major Reynolds said three factors contributed to the foundation’s decision to fund the chair at this point: the Campaign for the VCU Massey Cancer Center, the death of Bill Reynolds and the opportunity to double the gift’s impact. The dean of the School of Medicine, Dr. Jerome F. Strauss III, has made a commitment to match the Reynolds grant dollar-for-dollar.

“Creating a $2 million chair really was an inducement,” Reynolds said.

Once fully funded, the Reynolds chair will support the work of a medical oncologist who will lead a research program that translates new discoveries in basic science labs to the clinic, with the goal of developing new therapies for treating malignant brain tumors. The new recruit will be an addition to a neuro-oncology multispecialty team that draws physicians from a half-dozen departments. Key recruitments to this team have resulted in the expansion of its expertise and research, providing treatment strategies that carry patients from the initial visit through follow-up rehabilitation.

“The Reynolds Foundation’s gift will allow us to recruit an acknowledged research leader with a track record of success in winning competitive external funding,” Strauss said. “The addition of this level of experience in translational studies would complement the existing strengths on the neuro-oncology team and equip it both to initiate local studies and to add Richmond as an important new site for multicenter cancer trials.”

The incidence of cancers of the brain and central nervous system has remained relatively unchanged during the past decade, and the mortality rates for such cancers have seen little, if any, improvement.

Recent statistics show that the overall five-year survival rate for those diagnosed with a brain tumor is just 32 percent.

“We believe that there are many unexplored opportunities for medical research into cancers of the brain and spinal cord,” Reynolds said. “This new project brings together the Massey Cancer Center and the Harold F. Young Neurosurgical Center. We’ve followed these two teams closely over the years and we’re excited about the potential
for a collaboration that we believe will shed new light onto the treatment and prevention of the disease.

“We hope, of course, to find a cure for these kinds of brain tumors, which someone ultimately will do. It would be nice for that to happen at VCU through this chair.”

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Updated: 08/10/2007