Royce Reynolds died Wednesday, May 6, at home in Greensboro. He was 88. The eldest of James and Florence Royse Reynolds three children, Royce Reynolds used his talent as a salesman to build a single auto dealership into a successful regional enterprise that allowed him to expand his philanthropy and work in Christian evangelism after the business was sold in 1998.
Reynolds and his wife, Jane, devoted their attention to the work of the United Methodist Church and faith-based community organizations, such as the Salvation Army, Greensboro Urban Ministry, the Boy Scouts of America, and Greensboro College, a liberal arts school associated with the United Methodist Church.
Their gifts over the years helped open the Center of Hope, which provides transitional housing at the Salvation Army in Greensboro; a student life center at Greensboro College; and the family services center for the Old North State Council of Boy Scouts.
After the sale of his Crown automobile franchises in 1998, he placed most of his fortune with the Methodist Foundation of the Western North Carolina Conference to support the opening of new churches and training of ordained clergy. His special interest was in expanding church membership through the development of leadership skills of pastors. One program, begun in 1999 and underwritten by the Reynoldses, annually selects about twenty ministers from the Carolinas and Virginia for a yearlong series of sessions developed by the Duke Divinity School and the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro.
Throughout his life, Reynolds daily challenged his business associates to exceed their own expectations. He did the same with his church and the ministers he knew. “We have one purpose – to make disciples for Christ,” he often said. “We have gotten away from that. What I want to do is shake you out of your lethargy and apathy and disturb the status quo.”
He credited the late Methodist Bishop Ernest Fitzgerald for moving him into greater involvement with the church. “Nobody woke me up,” he said of his church experience before he began meeting regularly with Fitzgerald. “I didn’t have ministers shake me up and say Royce I need you to do more. I was just like everybody else.”
One of his deepest concerns was the decline in membership in the Methodist Church. His investment in leadership training for the clergy was his effort to reverse that trend. “In business, either you grow or you die,” he once said. “I think a church is the same.”
Reynolds believed one of his greatest achievements was “getting off that farm,” as he put it, and declaring, “I am not going to lead an average life.” The family farm was in the Flat Creek community near Franklin, Tenn., south of Nashville. Reynolds was born February 16, 1932 when times were tough and money was dear. As a youngster he loved to read and he excelled in school. He earned his Eagle Scout rank, and within weeks of graduation from high school he was enrolled at Middle Tennessee State College.
To earn money while he was a college student in the early 1950s, Reynolds began selling Bibles and religious books, going door-to-door at farmhouses in the rural reaches of North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. By 1959, he had become the Southwestern Company’s top salesman when he traded book sales for the automobile business and took a job with a Birmingham, Ala., dealership.In time, Reynolds gained a partial ownership of the Birmingham business, and an interest in other dealerships. In 1973, he et off on his own and purchased a Pontiac dealership in Greensboro, N.C., that he reopened as Crown Pontiac just as America faced its first gas crisis. He survived the economic turmoil of fuel shortages and an economic recession by quickly adding Japanese models that offered customers lower gas mileage than the American-made cars he had sold for years. During nearly thirty years in business, Reynolds expanded the Crown name to include ten additional dealerships that offered twenty brands of foreign- and domestic-made automobiles. His Crown Automotive Group also included a finance company and a used-car auto mall.
Reynolds became a committed Christian when he was nine years old and began teaching Sunday school at the Methodist church in Flat Creek. As a young man, he considered entering the ministry and was gained admission to the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, after he completed two years of service with the U. S. Army. He decided on a career in business instead and finished graduate studies at the University of Tennessee’s School of Business. Throughout their lives, Royce and his wife, Jane, were tithing members of their churches, first in Birmingham, and later in Greensboro at West Market Street United Methodist. They were generous supporters of the churches’ mission and outreach programs.
Over the years, Reynolds chaired the board of trustees at Greensboro College, was a member of the board and the executive committee of the Methodist Foundation of Western North Carolina, the Foundation of Evangelism, and the World Methodist Council. In 2001, Greensboro College awarded him an honorary degree in the humanities. He received the United Methodist Foundation’s Stanley S. Kresge Award for Christian Higher Education in 1997. The Old North State Council of the Boy Scouts also presented him with its Distinguished Citizen Award.
Preceding him in death were his parents and son-in-law William Fountain Avera.
Reynolds is survived by his loving wife, Jane Warren Reynolds; a daughter, Ingrid Reynolds Avera of Summerfield and her children Ashley Jane Avera and William Reynolds Avera ; a son and daughter-in law, Warren Paul Reynolds and his wife SusanTandon Reynolds of Advance and their daughter Sarah Catherine Reynolds; a sister, Patricia Marlin of Franklin, Tenn.; a brother, James K. Reynolds of Athens, Ga.
The family extends special thanks to caregivers, Valerie Anders, Brona Kobs, and Lilli Lindsey.
A private family committal will be held.
Due to the limitations imposed by the current health emergency, a memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Legacy Fund of West Market Street United Methodist Church in Greensboro, The Salvation Army of Greensboro, Greensboro Urban Ministry, or other charities.
Online condolences may be made through www.haneslineberryfuneralhomes.com.