Portrait from the Chronicle, 1903.
A prominent political office holder in late 19th and early 20th century Tennessee, Reau Estes Folk served several years as chief clerk of the Tennessee House of Representatives prior to his election as Tennessee State Treasurer in 1901, an office he would hold for over a decade. Born in Brownsville, Tennessee on September 21, 1865, Reau Estes Folk was the son of Judge Henry Bate and Martha Cornelia Estes Folk.
One of several children, Reau E. Folk wasn't the only member of the Folk family to attain public prominence, as his younger brother Joseph Wingate Folk (1869-1923) went on to serve a term as Governor of Missouri and later was an unsuccessful aspirant for the U.S. Senate. Another brother, Edgar Estes Folk (1856-1917), became a noted Baptist minister and prohibition advocate, and still another brother, Carey Albert Folk (1867-1944), served as the President of Boscobel College in Nashville.
Young Reau attended the public schools of Brownsville and would begin study at Wake Forest University in North Carolina in 1881. He studied law under his father for a short period before finding an interest in journalistic work. Folk would subsequently take on a position as reporter for the Nashville American and later was the city editor for the Memphis based Daily Scimitar. He continued work on the latter paper until 1891, when he returned to Nashville to rejoin the staff of the American.
Reau E. Folk entered the political life of Tennessee in 1893 when he won election as chief clerk of the Tennessee House of Representatives. Folk would be returned to that office on three more occasions (1895, 1897 and 1899) and while still serving as chief clerk pulled double duty as managing editor of the Nashville Daily Sun from 1895-97.
Reau E. Folk, from the 1895-96 Tennessee legislative composite.
After eight years of service as chief clerk of the Kentucky legislature Reau Folk was elected by the legislature to fill a vacancy in the office of Tennessee State Treasurer, that vacancy coming about due to the resignation of E.D. Craig. Folk's popularity at the state capitol proved to be so large that shortly before Craig's resignation, over ninety Tennessee state legislators lobbied then Governor Benton McMillin to appoint Folk to fill the vacant post!
Folk's decade long tenure as state treasurer also saw him fill the role of state insurance commissioner, and in that post Folk was particularly successful. During his stewardship of that department Folk took strides to:
"Bar out of the state all unsafe companies, and in pursuit of this object he has revoked the licenses of a number of concerns that had already secured a foothold within those lines."In addition to his service as state treasurer and insurance commissioner, Folk was delegate to the National Insurance Commissioners convention on several occasions, and served on its executive committee. His time there also saw him chair a special committee designed to press Congress to outlaw fraudulent insurance companies from using the U.S. mail system.
Reau Folk married on February 6, 1901 to Nannie Dudley Pitcher (1877-1954), to whom he was wed for over forty years. The couple would have at least two sons, Winston Estes Pilcher (1901-1994) and Reau Estes Jr. (1917-1973). Of these sons, Winston E.P. Folk would go on to prominence through his service in the U.S. Navy, being a deputy director of Civil Relations as well as a Rear Admiral.
After leaving state government Reau Folk maintained memberships in several fraternal groups, including the Knights of Pythias and Elks Lodges. He would serve as a trustee for the Ladies Hermitage Association (a group devoted to the preservation of Andrew Jackson's home "The Hermitage") and during his time with that organization chaired a special committee that undertook a detailed study of the Battle of New Orleans. This study was later written up by Folk and published in book form in 1935 under the lengthy title "Battle of New Orleans, Its Real Meaning: exposure of untruth being taught young america concerning the second most important military event in the life of the republic."
Reau Estes Folk died in Nashville on February 8, 1948 at age 82. His wife Nannie survived him by six years, and following her death in 1954 was interred alongside her husband at the famed Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.
Portrait from the Notable Men of Tennessee Vol. I, 1905.