This exclusive interview with Patrick Reynolds, grandson of tobacco company founder R.J. Reynolds, was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in Los Angeles in April, 2011.
Interview with Patrick Reynolds
Who is Patrick Reynolds, and what was it that changed the course of your life? Certainly there been a dramatic change.
Some may know me as the grandson of cigarette company founder R J Reynolds -- the one became a tobaccofree advocate, following my father's death from smoking. It started when I was a little boy of three, the year my parents divorced. My father was suddenly totally removed from my life, and I did not see him again until six years later, when I was 9. On meeting him for the first time I could remember, I was saddened to find him lying down with sandbags on his chest, to "exercise" his lungs. My only memories of my Dad, R.J. Reynolds, Jr., are of a man always short of breath, increasingly sick and frail, and counting the time he had left to live. He died from emphysema, the result of his lifelong cigarette addiction, in 1964, when I was still a boy. They say we sometimes find our calling in life right inside our deepest wound. I did.
I first spoke out publicly against Big Tobacco in Congress in 1986. I was thrust into the glare of the national media spotlight, and was asked over and over to speak at numerous political campaigns, aiming at smoking bans in restaurants and bars, higher tobacco taxes, and spending on tobacco prevention campaigns, made up in part of those great ads we used to see on TV. Sadly these days, most States are spending little money on those. It is ironic, because thanks to recent State and Federal tobacco tax hikes, the States and Federal government are taking in more tobacco-generated revenue than ever. But the ads play only rarely around the nation.
Today I run the Foundation for a Smokefree America and support my non-profit group in part as a speaker in schools. I give motivational talks www.tobaccofree.org/patrick.htm at schools to ages 10 and higher, up through college, and also give community talks for the public. Most of my clients are corporations, especially hospitals, who understand I will likely attract local newsmedia in their city. In so doing, I get to spread the tobaccofree message to whole communities I speak in. My talks build great goodwill for sponsors, and I've enjoyed doing this work. I hope I've made a difference.
This year we released a new educational video of my live assembly program for grades 7-12, The Truth About Tobacco, 2011 Edition www.tobaccofree.org/videotruth.htm It has been purchased by over 10,000 US schools! We also offer the website www.tobaccofree.org and if you want to know more, feel free to check out my bio www.tobaccofree.org/bio.
And if you really want to know more, I've co-authored a critically acclaimed biography about my colorful family, The Gilded Leaf. www.tobaccofree.org/book/ With luck, the book will one day be produced by HBO or another cable network as a long-form mini-series. I'm looking for an agent now!
Your work is right in line with similar goals of the World Health Organization. Have you considered speaking internationally?
I have, and realized what a difference I could make in other nations when I was invited to Greece in 2009, by its then Minister of Health, Dr. Avramopoulos. There was tremendous national media coverage in Greece of my appearances there. I thought, why not do the same thing in China, Russia, the Middle East, Europe? Why not on every continent? I would only need the right sponsors.
In 2011, a top advocate in Asia saw my debate on Al Jazeera. She sent the link to the debate www.tobaccofree.org/tv to the director of tobacco control at the World Health Organization in Geneva. He emailed me his praise after watching it, and a few days later, invited me to join a phone conference with him and his top staff in tobacco control at the WHO.
A week or so later, I received word that his division at the WHO wishes to work with me, and may offer logistical support for the world tour I am now planning.
I am looking for sponsors, both corporate and government, and have drafted a proposal for this project. I would appreciate any reader who has contacts with government officials around the world to email them the following link to our proposal, asking them to eventually get it before their Ministers of Health and the Minister's public relations liaisons. The link to my proposal is at www.tobaccofree.org/intl.pdf or you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please describe your mission for The Foundation for a Smokefree America.
The Foundation for a Smokefree America's mission is to motivate youth to stay tobacco free, and to empower smokers to quit successfully. Our group is best known for our national campaign for teen smoking prevention, and also for our large web outreach to those who want to quit smoking.
You have been very involved in the Men’s Movement. Please inform the readers what that is and what that means to you today.
In the 90's I was quite involved in it. It's not about men seeking more power or money; it's about putting to rest the grief we carry as men, often over a bad marriage or an absent father. The book that kicked off the movement was Iron John, by Robert Bly, the poet. Bly hit a nerve when he said that many men today are wimpy and feminized, because women have become so much more assertive and half of us did not have fathers to show us what it is to be a man. To recover his masculinity, a man must dig deep into the soul and discover the primal "Wild Man" inside. He must explore past wounds and betrayals from his father or a psychically incestuous mother.
To be a man, said Bly, you must stop being a "nice boy" or stop being a "laughing man" never acknowledging the problems in your life. Bly also said to become a man, you must, and it sounds odd at first, "betray your mother." I think it means that a man must learn to set a boundary between himself and his mother, perhaps by doing things to please himself and not her. But Bly is a poet and you must interpret it for yourself.
Many books and audio tapes were published following Robert Bly's initial book IRON JOHN. Classics include books like Fire in the Belly and King, Warrior, Lover, Magician. Men's retreats and weekly or bi-weekly meetings began springing up around the nation. Yes, we bang on Jimbae drums at our meetings. I think that is meant to awaken the primal inside you -- the inner Wild Man, around whom Bly's story of IRON JOHN was centered.
I have attended men's retreats run by Stephen Johnson at The Men's Center of Los Angeles www.menscenterlosangeles.com in Woodland Hills, CA. I also liked the retreats run by psychologist Marvin Allen at The Men's Center of Austin TX http://austinmenscenter.com Dr. Allen wrote In the Company of Men, and he may still offer his great Wild Man Weekend (though by now the retreat's name may have changed). A great resource to form your own men's group is the book A Circle of Men. However it's out of print, and used copies are $300! But you don't need a book to from a men's group; search it online and see what's out there. Good luck!
The above interview with Patrick Reynolds © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.