Congressman B. Carroll Reece was born in Butler to John Isaac and Sarah Maples Reece. He was one of thirteen children in the Reece family. Named for an ancestor, War of 1812 General Brazilla Carroll McBride, Reece never used his first name. Growing up in rural Tennessee, Reece attended Watauga Academy and Carson-Newman College, where he played basketball and football and was the valedictorian of the 1914 graduating class. After working as a high school principal for one year, he attended New York University and earned a master’s degree in economics and finance in 1916.
In 1917 Reece joined the American army headed for the war in France. He served in the American Expeditionary Forces and was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Purple Heart, and French Croix de Guerre with Palm. He returned to Tennessee and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from the First Congressional District in 1920. He held that position, almost without interruption, until his death in 1961; he failed to win reelection for one term (1930-32) and spent two years as Republican Party National Chairman from 1946 to 1948.
Reece soon gained a reputation as one of the most conservative members of Congress. An opponent of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal social policies, he also advocated isolationism in the years preceding World War II. During and after the war, Reece voted conservative economic principles in his opposition to federal wage and price controls. He supported the abolition of the poll tax and the implementation of federal antilynching legislation.
As 1946 Republican Party chairman, Reece represented the “old guard” conservative faction, which included Ohio Senator Robert Taft. Reece and Taft met opposition from such Republican liberals as Harold Stassen of Minnesota. Independently wealthy, Reece served without salary during his tenure as GOP chair. He presided over a Republican sweep of the House and Senate in the midterm congressional elections of 1946.
In his private life, Reece became a successful businessman, serving as president of three banks in his district. He briefly published the Bristol Herald-Courier. In addition, Reece practiced law, having received his law degree from Cumberland University. He married the former Louise Goff, whose father and grandfather had represented West Virginia in the U.S. Senate. After their marriage in 1923, the couple had one child, a daughter named Louise. Reece died of cancer on March 20, 1961, at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland and is buried at the Monte Vista Burial Park in Johnson City. His wife completed his congressional term. The Carroll Reece Museum at East Tennessee State University is named in his honor.