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Reaumur Coleman Stearnes, is a member of a well known family, whose home had been in Massachusetts for many years, from the day the good ship "Arabella," landed his paternal ancestor, Charles Stearnes, in Boston harbor, in 1628.  Mr. Stearnes is a distinguished member of an unusual family, and has won for himself a reputation as an educator and scientific man of nation-wide familiarity.

(I) Lewis Patrick Stearnes, the paternal grandfather of the Mr. Stearnes of this sketch, was a native of Franklin county, Massachusetts, where he was born November 12, 1801, and died while still a young man, after a successful career as a merchant in Franklin county, Virginia, his adopted state.  In the early part of the nineteenth century he moved south, finding a new and congenial abode among the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia, where the name was allowed to take on an additional "e" in its orthography.  He married Sarah Cabaniss, a native of Franklin county, Virginia, and by her had four children.  One of these was Major Orren Darius Stearnes, who died a soldier in the Confederate army, during the civil war, and another, Dr. John Lewis Stearnes, of whom further.  Two of the children died in infancy.

(II) Dr. John Lewis Stearnes, the fourth child of Lewis Patrick and Sarah (Cabaniss) Stearnes, was born in Franklin county, Virginia, December 15, 1834.  He studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and after graduation began the practice of his profession at Dublin, Pulaski county, Virginia.  He became one of the leading physicians of that section of the state, and during the civil war was appointed physician of the post at the Dublin camp of instruction, by the confederate government.  He later resumed his private practice, and in 1886 moved the scene of his operations to Salem, Virginia, where he still has a flourishing private practice, besides serving as physician to the large Baptist Orphanage located in that town.  Dr. Stearnes married Phoebe Ann McDermed, a native of Roanoke county, Virginia, where she was born in 1841, daughter of Daniel and Martha (Rogers) McDermed.  Mr. McDermed was also a native of Roanoke county, where his family had resided for many years, and where he was a prominent merchant in ante-bellum days.  His wife, Martha (Rogers) McDermed, was a native of Ontario, Canada.  To Mr. and Mrs. McDermed were born two daughters. Phoebe Ann, now Mrs. Stearnes, and with her husband, a resident of Salem, Virginia: and Mary, who married Dr. John Barbour Baskerville and is living at the home of her son-in-law, J. Howe Kent, Esq., of near Dublin, Virginia.  Dr. and Mrs. John Lewis Stearnes had eight children, as follows: 1. James Daniel, a physician of Dublin, Virginia.  2. Orren Lewis, a resident of Salem, Virginia, where he is a director of the Appalachian Power Company and a member of the state legislature.  3. Robley Stillé, a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, where he is engaged in the electrical contracting business.  4 Reaumur Coleman, mentioned below.  5. Mary Lewis, now Mrs. J. V. Moore, of Cape Charles, Virginia.  6. Lucy Jackson, a resident of Salem, Virginia.  7. Phoebe Rogers, who died at the age of seventeen months.  8. Henry Cabaniss, who died in infancy.

(Ill) Reaumur Coleman Stearnes, the fourth child of Dr. John Lewis and Phoebe Ann (McDermed) Stearnes, was born April 8, 1866, at Dublin, Virginia.  He passed his boyhood in that picturesque locality, and when he reached an age to begin his studies was sent by Dr. Stearnes, his father, to Nysorton Academy, not far from Dublin.  Here he obtained the elementary portion of his education, and prepared himself for the more advanced college courses which he had in anticipation.  Of an unusually quick mind and a naturally painstaking disposition, he at once began to exhibit those powers which have appeared so conspicuously in after life.  Having attracted the favorable notice of his instructors at the academy, and graduated therefrom with high honors, he matriculated at Richmond College, where he pursued with even greater distinction his career as a student.  Again he won the honors from all competitors, and finally graduated with the class of 1887, with the degree of Master of Arts, winning the threefold distinction of being Greek medalist, philosophy medalist and class valedictorian.  The love of the scholar's life was strong within him and he had determined to devote his life to the profession of teaching.  Accordingly he accepted a position as instructor in mathematics and science in the Alleghany Institute at Roanoke, Virginia.  He began these duties at the age of twenty-one years, and in the next three years so distinguished himself that the regard of educators in that region began to be fixed upon him most favorably.  It soon became apparent that the post of instructor was only a stepping stone for one of the ideas entertained by Mr. Stearnes, who was already possessed of a theory of an educational system which he felt competent to inaugurate.  Accordingly, when only twenty-six years old, he was made superintendent of schools in Roanoke county.

It might be supposed that a task of such magnitude and responsibility of supervising ninety schools and inaugurating an entirely new system would have taxed the powers and energy of so young a man, but Mr. Stearnes instead of finding his duties too onerous, added to them the practice of the law, his new profession becoming of great value in connection with the superintendence' of the county schools.  The year 1892 marked his choice as county superintendent, and 1896 the beginning of his legal practice.  He continued these double labors until 1906, and was then made secretary to the state board of education, his office dating from April first of that year.  Here his learning and grasp of the situation generally so impressed his colleagues that by their unanimous vote he was elected, January 1, 1913, superintendent of public instruction for the state of Virginia.  On February 1, 1914, the people of the state confirmed this choice by electing Mr. Stearnes to the same office for a term of four years, without opposition.  Mr. Stearnes has served in every capacity in the public school system of Virginia, pedagogical, legal and administrative, and in all has acquitted himself, not merely with credit but in so able a manner as to win the admiration of the great community which he serves and of educators everywhere.  He is now entering upon the duties of the state superintendency with his customary vigor and judgment, and it seems certain that an era of great development, along the lines of the best modern and scientific theories, awaits the schools of the state, under his capable direction.  Mr. Stearnes has the advantage, not always possessed by strong men, of having won the intelligent co-operation on the part of his coadjutors on the board of education, and the appreciative support of the people of Virginia, as shown by their unanimous ratification of his appointment to the superintendency.  Mr. Stearnes is now a resident of Richmond, where he has a handsome home in Westhampton.  He is an active participant in the life of the community in many of its aspects, is a member of the Masonic Order and of the Royal Arcanum, of which he last year was the grand regent.  He is also a member of the Westmoreland Club.

Mr. Stearnes married, December 27, 1888, in Richmond, Virginia, Mary Elizabeth Arnold, a native of Charlotte county, Virginia, where she was born December 4, 1865.  She is a daughter of the Rev. Joseph D. and Elizabeth (Mosely) Arnold.  Mr. Arnold is now a resident of Waynesville, North Carolina, and was for many years a clergyman of the Methodist church, that state, but is now retired from active ministry.  His present wife is a sister of Chief Justice Walter Clark, of Raleigh, North Carolina.

To Mr. and Mrs. Stearnes have been born three children, as follows: Bessie Arnold, born August 19, 1890; John Lewis, who died at the age of eighteen months in March, 1893; Reaumur Coleman Jr., born April 8, 1901.  Mr. and Mrs. Stearnes are members of the Presbyterian church, attending the Second Church of that denomination in Richmond.  They are rearing their children in that faith.

Reaumur Coleman Stearnes is a very young man to have achieved the position which he has in the community and state, hardly yet the very zenith of his power; so that taking into consideration the successful nature of the first part of his career and his abilities, together with the unusual degree of support and appreciation with which his efforts have been favored, there seems every reason to predict a brilliant and splendid future for him, a future in which his powers shall have ample scope to carry out the great aims which he has in view for the development of education and the extension of culture throughout his state.
(Source: Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. IV Transcribed by Chris Davis)

 

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