1997 Laureates

B. Carroll Reece

Brazilla Carroll Reece was born in Butler, Tennessee, on December 22, 1889, one of 13 children of James Issac and Sarah E. (Maples) Reece. He was a descendant of Col. Jacob Brown, who foundedNolichucky, one of the first settlements established in what is now Tennessee. Reece attended Watagua Academy, Butler, and in 1914, he earned a B.A. degree from Carson-Newman College. In 1916, Reece received his master of arts in business and finance from New York University, where he taught economics for two years. Reece also studied law at NYU.

One month after the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Reece enlisted in the Army. He commanded a battalion of the 26th Division, American Expeditionary Force, spending time in England and the French Front. He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm and was citied for bravery.

While in England, Reece did postgraduate work at the University of London. Following the war, he returned to New York University as director of the School of Commerce, Accounts and Finance, and as instructor of Economics. After his election to Congress, Reece was admitted to the bar in Tennessee.

Reece entered the Congressional race of 1920 against the incumbent, Sam R. Sells, who had held Tennessee's First District seat for eight years. Many thought Reece did not stand a chance against Sells, but following a "hard-fought race," Reece was elected the "baby" member of the 67th Congress. In subsequent campaigns, Reece was challenged by hopefuls from across the First District. Reece retained his seat until 1930 when he was defeated in a whirlwind write-in campaign by Oscar Lovette of Greenville. He ran against Lovette in 1932 and returned to office, winning each campaign thereafter through 1944.

Reece was elected National Committeeman for Tennessee in 1939, and he had come to be regarded as the head of the Republican party in his state and in the South. He was elected as the first southern Chairman of the Republican National Committee in May 1946, accepting no salary for his duties.

Reece was the first national chairman to demand equal air time (radio) to respond to a presidential address. During his chairmanship, Reece led his party through the off-year elections of 1946, which saw the Republicans take control of both the House and the Senate, and to the 1948 national convention in Philadelphia where the Republicans nominated Thomas E. Dewey to run against Democrat Harry S. Truman. Reece ran unsuccessfully for the senate against Estes Kafauver in 1948 and hit the campaign trail with country music star and Tennessee gubernational candidate, Roy Acuff. Following a heated campaign in the Republican primary and general election of 1950, Reece returned to Congress in 1951, where he remained until his death 10 years later.

One of Reece's "pet" projects was his attempt to secure the presidential nomination for his friend, Senator Robert A. Taft. A son of former President Taft, the senator had represented Ohio since 1939 and had been cosponsor of the Taft-Harley Act which placed restrictions on labor unions. Reece viewed Taft as taking the party toward more "middle of the road" policies and had hoped he would be nominated in the 1948 campaign. Taft did not receive that nomination, and Reece and other Taft supporters tried again in 1952. This resulted in a split in the Republican party with the Taft faction in opposition to supporters of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Even though his candidate failed to win the nomination, Reece backed his party wholeheartedly, helping place Tennessee in the Republican column for the 1952 election. After Taft died in 1953, Reece spearheaded the development and construction of the Robert A. Taft Memorial.

Reece chaired Congressional Committee to Investigate Tax-exempt Foundations in 1954. The committee took on some of the most powerful and wealthy foundations in the country, including the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and Rockefeller Foundation. Reece's opponents charged him and the committee with prejudice toward the foundation. One of the most outspoken opponents was Congressman Wayne Hays of Ohio. Hays and Reece exchanged verbal fire often, and following an "outburst by Hays" during testimony, Reece closed the hearings. The "Reece Report" on Tax-exempt Foundations is a document of more than 400 pages; the committee concluded that the majority of these foundations were used as tools of communist infiltration.

Reece maintained his conservative stance and was the consummate Republican; in fact, he was nicknamed "Mr. Republican" by the press. He held his seat in Congress in the elections of 1956, '58, and '60. In 1959, Reece was named to the powerful House Rules Committee.

The 71 year-old Congressman died March 19, 1961. Fellow Tennessean, The Honorable Howard H. Baker, is addressing the House of Representatives the next day said, "Carroll Reece's life was filled with achievements in public service, and he served with marked distinction in many other fields as a humanitarian and industrialist. Carroll had a great heart of gold, filled with understanding, wit, and humor. He will long be remembered and his memory cherished by each of us."