What I cherished most about Professor Emeritus Don Jones, 1931–2009.
By the Rev. Bruce R. Grob C’73, G’84
There are, I believe, what the Irish call “thin places” in the world, where connections are made, places where the veil between this world and the next is so sheer that it is easy to step through. So often my times with Don brought me to one of those thin places.
I remember when Don and I were on the Citizens’ Committee on Biomedical Ethics in the 1980s, a New Jersey group working to create choices surrounding death and medical care. This was the era of Karen Ann Quinlan, of course, and there was a desire in New Jersey to have the types of discussions that Oregon had been having. As part of his class on the ethics of death and dying, Don brought in actors who acted out case studies in medical ethics. His goal was to open us to the emotional as well as the moral challenges these case studies presented, and make them real in our lives.
For Don, these were not just philosophical questions, but human ones as well. With grace, he helped the entire class navigate that thin place between what we reason and what we feel in our hearts. In moments like these, I would indeed catch a glimpse of the holy in his love of life.
I first met Don when I took his “Introduction to Social Ethics,” the first of eight classes I would take with him as an undergraduate. Tall, comfortable and usually perched on the corner of his desk, he made an old classroom dusty with chalk come alive, inviting us to share and trust our thinking. His dedication to knowledge and honesty challenged all of us, all of our certainties, and opened us up to new ways of seeing and understanding our worlds.
Don quickly became my mentor and friend, and remained so throughout his life. One of his extraordinary gifts was the ability to make everyone feel like they were very important to him. I also learned from him, by example and by counsel, how to be a considerate and loving father.
Too often these days we all rush through life, blowing right past those thin place moments. Don taught us in life as he now reminds us in his death, to take a few of the side roads, and not be afraid of getting a little lost.
Hillary Clinton Honors Jones
On May 9, many of Don Jones’ family, friends, former students and admirers came together to celebrate the life of this former professor of social ethics at a memorial service at the United Methodist Church in Madison. Among the eulogists honoring Jones, who died in his sleep on April 23, was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who knew him as her youth pastor in Park Ridge, Ill. “Don opened up a new world to me and helped guide me on a spiritual, social and political journey of over 40 years,” said Clinton in a statement. “[He] taught me the meaning of the words ‘faith in action’ and the importance of social justice and human rights.”