Mary Mountcastle and the Reynolds Family Connections

Mary Mountcastle and the Reynolds Family Connections

This is part two of a three-part series (click here for part 1)

Susan Myrick

It can be very difficult to grasp or visualize the vastness of the network of left-wing groups in North Carolina. But one way to start is with the key group on the left – and the family that dominates it.

Our research has confirmed that the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has abandoned its original mission and has turned into a foundation bent on reshaping NC governance, culture and society. Our challenge in the Mapping the Left project is to illustrate these connections, and where better to begin than with the members of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Board of Trustees: They were, and are, unquestionably the most important single force behind the liberal/progressive movement in North Carolina.

We have already discussed David Neal and now we will look at another Reynolds family member who has a longer history and has helped to shape the transition of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to an activist giver within North Carolina, while also being instrumental in the larger liberal/progressive movement outside the state through her work on the board of the foundation named after her grandmother – the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.

Mary Mountcastle – Durham, NC


Family ties and connections are very important to the Reynolds family heirs. This is evident in the work of the family members on foundation boards and in the groups funded by the various Reynolds family foundations.

Mary Mountcastle’s great-grandparents were R.J. Reynolds and his wife, Mary Katharine Smith. They had a daughter, Mary Katharine Reynolds (Mary Babcock Mountcastle’s grandmother), who was Z. Smith Reynolds oldest sister. In 1936, Mary Katharine Reynolds inherited $30 million from R.J.’s estate, and at the time she was described as one of the richest women in the world. She went on to marry Charles Henry Babcock.

Mary Katharine and Charles Henry Babcock had a daughter, Mary Katharine Babcock, who went on to marry Kenneth Franklin Mountcastle Jr. They had a daughter who they named Mary.

The above names are a little hard to follow but illustrate how important family and heritage is to the Reynolds heirs and how they like to emphasize the family roots and relations.

Mary Mountcastle has served on the Z. Smith Reynolds Board of Trustees for decades, serving as president of the board at least twice. She also serves on the Board of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the foundation named after her grandmother. The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation concentrates its philanthropic efforts outside of North Carolina, whereas the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation focuses its grant-giving within the state. Between 2004 and 2012, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation gave more than $76 million to mostly liberal organizations outside of North Carolina.

Mountcastle works closely with nonprofits in the Blueprint NC network and has served as the president of the Center for Responsible Lending and assistant director and president of the Center for Community Self-Help – both of which are members of Blueprint NC. In March 2010, Sean Higgins, writing for the Capital Research Center, said that the Center for Responsible Lending is

“intimately tied to some of the worst actors in the lending business and its advocacy has too often hurt, not helped, the people it claims to defend.” The actors he is referring to are Herbert and Marion Sandler, who are credited with creating the Center for Responsible Lending.”

The Sandlers have been connected to and accused by some of contributing to the housing meltdown of 2008. They sold their company Golden West Financial to Wachovia for $24 billion in 2006 at the height of the housing boom. This netted the Sandlers about $2.4 billion dollars. This purchase, with its large portfolio of risky housing loans, contributed greatly to the failure and subsequent sale of Wachovia, which at the time was the nation’s fourth largest bank. The Sandlers got billions and Wachovia shareholders were left holding the bag. The New York Times reported that Time Magazine ranked the couple in its list of “25 people to blame for the financial crisis.”

Mary Mountcastle’s connections go outside the Blueprint NC arena too: She is the former Vice President of Economic Development for MDC Inc. In 1967, MDC was formed from Gov. Terry Sanford’s NC Fund. In 1962, the NC Fund, with an ostensible goal to end poverty in North Carolina, was created with grant money from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as grants from the federal government.

The Reynolds heirs, while having a very large influence on North Carolina, have also made it a point to be part of the larger national liberal/progressive movement.

Mountcastle has also served as a board member and as treasurer for the Tides Foundation, one of the foremost liberal/progressive funding organizations in the United States. The Tides Center grew out of the Tides Foundation and began as the Foundation’s Projects Program in the late 1970s. The center served to organize and grow new left-wing political advocacy groups and provide them with whatever help they might need in the way of staff and money. You can see this model of assistance used today by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation: Blueprint NC was started in this way with funding by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and was housed in the NC Justice Center for several years.

The Reynolds family ties run deep in the Tides Foundation. The foundation was founded in 1976 in San Francisco by Drummond Pike and Nancy Jane Lehman as a public charity that receives money from donors and then funnels it to the recipients of the donor’s choice – effectively laundering the money so donors can remain anonymous. What many people don’t know is that Nancy Jane Lehman’s grandfather was none other than R.J. Reynolds. Her mother was Nancy Susan Bagley, his youngest daughter and founder of the radical ARCA Foundation.

Scott Walter, in the summary of his article “The Tides Foundation and Center: Selling Foundation Philanthropy on the Idea of “Structural Racism” leaves no question as to Tides’ political philosophy:

“The Tides Foundation is a public charity designed to allow anonymous pass-through funding by donors, and the Tides Center acts as an incubator for radical advocacy nonprofits. But the whole is greater than the sum of Tides’ parts. The innovative structure of the Tides network is designed to secure funding for and nurture the growth of radical nonprofits along a wide range of issues. But the most important— and dangerous—Tides initiative is its effort to promote the concept of ‘structural racism.’”

Patrick Reilly, writing for Foundation Watch, wrote:

“Beyond environmental advocacy and anti-military efforts, Tides Center projects are involved in many issues and efforts to turn government, business and society leftward.”

Mary Mountcastle also currently serves on the board of trustees for Demos, an ultra-liberal policy nonprofit based in New York. Another noteworthy member of the Demos board of trustees, Van Jones, was President Obama’s adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and a self-avowed communist and 9/11 truther petition signer.

She serves and has served on numerous other funder and philanthropy boards, including the Triangle Community Foundation, the Council on Foundations, and Lillian’s List. She is married to Jim Overton, who according to his bio on the NC League of Conservation Voters website, of which he is a member of the board, is on the executive staff of the Center for Community Self-Help – both organizations associated with Blueprint NC.

Mapping the Left

In North Carolina there are literally hundreds of liberal/progressive groups from different areas of the political, public, private and non-profit sectors. Moreover, groups with different interests and missions work together at a moment’s notice to advocate for each other’s goals. In addition, many of these groups have carefully selected names that, while not completely lying about their mission, tend to cloak their true intent.

It is for all these reasons that we created Mapping the Left, an online database which helps make it easier to visualize the groups and the activists that make them work, but especially because it illuminates the connections among this seemingly unconnected group. The connections are so numerous and so deep that it is necessary to use images to help illustrate them.