H. Reynolds, 92, Headed Elks Group

Posted: February 21, 1991

Even before Rosa Parks took the bus ride that launched the modern civil rights movement, Hobson R. Reynolds was pushing for black representation in the Republican Party and stronger civil rights policy in the presidential platforms of Thomas E. Dewey and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He didn't always get what he wanted. But so influential was Mr. Reynolds, a Philadelphia undertaker and a force in Republican city and state politics, he was chosen to give the seconding speech for Eisenhower at the Republican National Convention in 1952.

Mr. Reynolds, 92, the former owner of Reynolds Funeral Home in North Philadelphia and the grand exalted ruler of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, died last Thursday in Ahoskie, N.C. A resident of Philadelphia for more than 50 years, he moved to his birthplace in Winton, N.C., eight years ago.

Mr. Reynolds was a graduate of Waters Tranning Normal Institute in Winton, and attended business college and the Eckels College of Mortuary Science in Philadelphia. He stayed in the city from then until his move.


He quickly found his way into politics and was quite good at it. In 1934, he was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature where, according to family members, he wrote the first civil rights legislation in the state.

Later, he served several years as a Philadelphia magistrate. He served for years as leader of the 47th Ward, was appointed a state worker's compensation referee, and was named by President Eisenhower as an assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"He was a very effective Republican leader," said D. Donald Jamieson, Republican city chairman. "I attended many meetings and conventions with Hob. He spoke as you would expect a statesman to speak, with dignity. He was persuasive and direct and had a great power at communicating."

And, with his muttonchop mustache, his long hair swept straight back, his dark suits, starched shirt and tie, he looked like a statesman.

"He knew extraordinary people, but he never forgot ordinary people," said his niece, Julie Reynolds Lewis, reflecting on reactions to Mr. Reynolds' death from people in his home town. "I've heard from people who cooked in the kitchen or waited on him in the restaurant. He was good to everyone.

To his family, Mr. Reynolds was very special.

"To me, he looked like a king," said his cousin, Jo Ann Vann. "His head was always high."

"Uncle Hob was a presence," said Lewis. "He was one of those people who could command a room without saying a word."

He was, according to family and friends, an outspoken man with a keen analytic ability, energy, creativity and a great desire for justice.

"He was a man of great power," Lewis said. "But he always wanted to know about my children - if they had a cold, had they been to the doctor. He had a strong sense of family."


In the 1930s he joined the Elks and became the group's grand director of civil liberties. In 1960 he was elected grand exalted ruler of the organization, which had about 450,000 members. He retired in 1982.

It was as head of the Elks that Mr. Reynolds achieved what many consider his greatest accomplishment: the Elks Shrine.

"He donated 77 acres of land in his home town of Winton and we spent $3 1/ 2 million cultivating the Elks National Shrine," said Donald P. Wilson, the current leader of the organization.

There, the Elks built a headquarters office building, homes for the elderly, a motel and a campground. They run a camp to train urban youth in computer technology and invite children from the town to splash around in the Elks' pool.

It's called the Hobson R. Reynolds National Shrine.

He was proud of that and of leading the Elks to provide scores of scholarships to help both black and white students pay college tuition.

But his proudest moment came, Lewis said, the day Mr. Reynolds, his wife, Lewis and her three children sailed into the Chowan River and, from the deck of his private yacht, waved to the residents of Winton who lined the banks.

He often told stories about the old days in Winton, when he had worked with his dad farming and making bricks to make a bare living, Lewis said.

"He said, 'I left here barefoot and came back on my personal yacht,' "

she said. "He was so proud that day."

Besides his niece, he is survived by a sister, Susan Reynolds Brown, and other nieces and nephews.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Elks National Shrine, Winton, N.C.

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