When Richard S. (Major) Reynolds III criticized one of his opponents in the Virginia Democrats primary race for lieutenant governor for trying to get elected on a famous name and money, there were those who snickered.

Looking who's talking, they said - the grandson of Reynolds Wrap, and the brother of the late J. Sargeant Reynolds, one of the most popular politicians ever to hit Virginia.

But Major Reynolds sees a difference. His money may be family money, but its Virginia money, and his name recognition might be high but its a Virginia name, an old Virginia home.

"The more you know Virginia, the more you'll want Reynolds," reads one of the campaign slogans he is circulating in his race against Charles S. Robb and Ira M. Lechner.

Reynolds, 42, cheerfully admits that between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of his campaign treasury, which he estimates at about $250,000 for the primary, will come from his family.

"The great thing about family sources is the independence it gives a candidate," he said. "You're not beholden to special interests. Of course we want to raise as much money outside the family as we can . . . I wish we could raise all of it."

As for the name, he says it "doesn't hurt," but it's been such a long time since his brother died in June, 1971, that not that many people remember him. Nonetheless, Reynolds invokes his brother's name before certain groups, like the joint meeting of the black Crusade for Voters and the Democratic Black Caucus last weekend in Richmond, and thus raises the question of comparison himself.

J. Sargeant Reynolds was one of the youngest men ever elected to the office his brother now seeks. When he died of a brain tumor at age 34 he already had received a landslide of votes in the Democratic primary is which he was chosen his party's nominee, and was generally expected to be the next governor.

Those who knew him - even those who didn't - tend to say things like "things would be different if Sargie were here," in discussions of Virginia politics. He was one of the few politicians who was considered able to ally Virginia's various Democratic factions while also espousing progessive views on race.

Fellow legislators and politcal observers say that Major Reynolds lacks the compelling personality and sense of humor that made his brother so popular. He is stressing his record as a state delegate for two years and his qualifications as a businessman in trying to attract voters.

Robb, the presidential son-in-law aided not only by his wife's name but a seemingly well-organized, well-financed campaign, has been highly visible throughout the state since last summer and is thought by many to be Reynolds' chief opponent. But Lechner is not discounted. Despite a comparative lack of funds, he has traveled Virginia for two years - including a well-publicized walk the length of the state.

Robb, Reynolds says, suffers from a lack of Virginia political credentials. He has never been elected to political office, and Reynolds refers to him obliquely as an "instant Virginian." Lechner, Reynolds claims, is too closely identified with support for such things as collective bargaining.

In recent weeks, Reynolds has taken a leave from his job as a vice president and director of Rebertshaw Controls Company (of which Reynolds Metals Co. is the major stockholder) and become a full-time campaigner. A paid staff of six, headed by one-time congressional candidate Ben Ragsdale, has set up headquarters in downtown Richmond a few blocks from Reynolds' apartment.

They are planning to spend as much as 40 per cent of their money on media, from billboards to television commercials, coordinated by an advertising agency in Richmond.It's the same agency that handled Scott and Holton," he said with a grin, referring to Republican Sen. William L. Scott and former Republican Gov. Linwood Holton.

Reynolds was born in New York City while his father was in the brokerage business (Reynolds and Co.) there before returning to Richmond. He acquired his nickname because at the time of his birth "there were five Richard Reynoldses in our family and they didn't want to call me Little Richard . . . an aunt thought I looked like a portrait of one of the earlier Reynolds who was named Major . . . " The nickname stuck. His son is Richard S. Reynolds IV.

Reynolds was born in New York City.

Reynolds are graduated from Woodberry Forest, which at the time was one of the fourt of five prep schools where the Virginia establishment traditionally schooled their heis. Then he went to Princeton University, a history major, graduated with honors and made an early marriage that ended later in divorce. (He has since remarried).

After 10 years or so as a newspaper owner (the then Miami Beach Sun), Reynolds joined Robertshaw, where he's in charge of acquisitions and mergers. The company, he said, employs 8,000 workers making heating control systems.

Reynolds says his business experience is a prime reason why Democrats should vote for him. "I'm the only nonlawyer running," he is fond of saying, "The state can use some business people at the top levels."

Reynolds worked on his brother's successful campaigns for the House of Delegates, the Senate, and in the lieutenant governor primary and the following general election. In 1975, he ran for the House of Delegates himself, getting the third highest number of votes of five winners.

Like many freshmen, Reynolds rarely speaks on the floor of the House, and is generally silent in committee meetings. He points to his active support of conflict of interest measures and financial disclosure laws with pride, and said he lobbied forcefully to open records of legislators' credit card telephone bills to public scrutiny during his first session.

He is proud also of his advocacy of equal opportunities for blacks in Virginia, saying he worked for the election of the first black legislator since Reconstruction, opposed the closing of public schools in the face of desegregation in the 1950s, and has lobbied to have blacks appointed to various committees in the party and the charity work he has been involved in.

Although Reynolds is generally considered a less effective speaker than either Lechner or Robb, his campaign shows sign of political savvy that may work for him.

At last weekend's meeting of blacks, for example, Reynolds had two brochures critical of his opponents. One was a reproduction of a Lechner brochure that showed a picture of Lechner with Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and an admiring quote from King to a black leader superimposed over the photograph saying he had not endorsed anyone in the race.

The other hand-out showed Robb meeting with former Gov. William M. Tuck, an old line conservative Democrat, Byrd machine stalwart and supporter of the "massive resistance" program against school desegregation.

Such attacks on other candidates are not customary in Virginia politics and believe Reynolds somewhat affable, low-key demeanor. But he did receive the endorsement of the two black groups despite a rousing speech by Lechner, who got 60 votes to Reynolds 107.