Friday, June 21, 2024

Robert G Jones: A blessed life

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On a warm Texas morning, Robert G. "Bob" Jones sits on the backyard deck of his home in Granbury, reflecting and reminiscing about his life's journey — one that had brought him here to this very spot. A symphony unfolds in the distance as Egyptian Geese honk and Finches chirp in the bright sun. His mind drifts back from humble beginnings to marriage and children to his days in the U.S. Air Force, where, as a fighter pilot, he shot through the skies defending his country during the tense days of the Cold War. 

But to truly understand Jones’, one must travel back to his childhood a few miles from Merigold, Mississippi where Jones was born Feb. 9, 1935. He vividly recalls the arrival of electricity followed by the installation of a well, bringing running water and an indoor bathroom to their home. The 5-year-old boy happily said goodbye to the outhouse!

Jones' father, Carl Booth Jones, a man with skills in farming, mechanics, carpentry and more, managed operations on his grandfather's plantation. He oversaw farming activities and equipment maintenance. Despite a brief stint at Mississippi State College, his battle with alcohol later overshadowed much of his life, though he triumphed over addiction in his later years. 

Jones' mother, Imogene Thomasson Jones, known as Jean, pursued education at Morehead Junior College and Delta State College. A devoted mother and homemaker, Jean was a strong and faithful Christian, and actively participated in the Merigold Baptist Church community.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

"I can picture in my mind the exact place and time when I first learned about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We were going home after church following a noon meal with my grandparents. We heard the announcement on our car radio on this fateful day, Dec. 7, 1941," The onset of World War II would soon be followed by catastrophic family loss that would break young Jones’ heart.

His mother was killed in a tragic auto/train accident that took the lives of two other people and seriously injured Jones' father and younger brother, Bert. Jean's death left a void that would profoundly shape young Jones' path. With his family shattered by grief, Jones found comfort and stability in the loving embrace of his grandparents, who became his pillars of strength and sources of unwavering support.

Jones was the second of three sons, raised amidst the sprawling fields of his grandfather's plantation in the Mississippi Delta. His paternal grandfather, “Pop,” owned a 3,000-acre plantation in the Mississippi Delta, primarily cultivating cotton, corn, oats and alfalfa; he bred mules for sale, as well, all while serving as the longstanding mayor of his small town. His paternal grandmother, Em, stepped in as a loving mother figure. She dedicated herself entirely to raising Jones and his siblings — the epitome of maternal devotion.

MAMAH LOUELLA

During these formative years, Jones' faith was deepened, thanks to the influence of his maternal grandmother, Mamah Louella Thomasson. Her devotion to living a Christian life left an indelible mark on Jones' heart, shaping his values and guiding his moral compass.

During an annual revival service at church, Jones' older brother, Billy, accepted the invitation. It was a powerful encouragement for Jones, who made his own profession of faith days later. "I recall," he said, "that when I came forward during the invitation, our pastor asked if I wanted to talk about my decision. I told him, 'No, I want to be baptized!'" 

Not long after the baptism, Billy and several friends went to see a new German and Italian POW camp being constructed in Merigold. While conversing with guards, one of their guns accidentally discharged, striking Billy. He died shortly afterward in the Cleveland Hospital.

PROVIDENTIAL BLESSINGS

As Jones grew older, he found himself at a crossroads, grappling with the loss of his mother, brother, and the challenges of adolescence. Yet, amidst the trials, hope emerged in the form of James and Jewel Merrit, a couple deeply rooted in their Baptist faith whose arrival in Merigold would change Jones' life forever. Merritt recognized and encouraged Jones' interests and abilities. Consequently, Jones decided to study engineering in college where he would become actively involved in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Through James and Jewel Merritt’s guidance and mentorship, Jones rediscovered his faith and committed himself to a life dedicated to serving others.

COLLEGE AND A GIRL

With newfound purpose, Jones pursued his dreams of higher education, enrolling at Mississippi State University to study mechanical engineering. There, he met the love of his life, Beverly, whose presence would bring a lifetime of joy and companionship into his world.

Beverly attended Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus, approximately 30 miles east of Mississippi State University. While at MSCW, she forged a close friendship with one of Jones’ cousins, Miriam. One weekend, Beverly accompanied Miriam to her hometown in Merigold for a Saturday night football game at Delta State College in Cleveland. They happened to be sitting several rows behind Jones, who was listening intently to another match between Mississippi State and LSU on a portable radio. Miriam shouted down to inquire about the score. Beverly did the same several times afterward and a relationship blossomed.

BORN TO HUNT

Born into a lineage where hunting was a cherished tradition, Jones became an avid hunter and shooter from his earliest years. His grandfather and his friends established the Merigold Hunting Club on the banks of the Mississippi River in Bolivar County, covering nearly 20,000 acres between the levee and the river. This property became a sanctuary for Jones, who spent countless hours in a small log cabin constructed by his great-grandfather.

Having held membership in the club since his early days in the military, Jones has witnessed its evolution. Despite its purchase and reorganization in 2004, the Merigold Hunting Club remains a vibrant hub for outdoor enthusiasts.

Jones' primary gunning activities later shifted to wing shooting and shooting trap and skeet at the Fort Worth Trap and Skeet Club. However, his love for adventure extended beyond hunting, as he and his wife traveled across the USA, Europe, Canada and the Caribbean Islands. From skiing to SCUBA diving, they explored the world's wonders together.

A CALL TO THE SKIES

Jones' interest in aviation and desire to become a pilot was evident early on. During his summers, he worked in ground support duties for his uncle, Henry Jones, who owned an agricultural flying business and had served as a transport pilot in the Army Air Corps during WWII. 

Jones was active in the Air Force ROTC throughout college and was commissioned as second lieutenant. Upon graduating from Mississippi State with a degree in mechanical engineering, he secured employment at Chance Vought Aircraft in Grand Prairie, for approximately six months before embarking on active duty with the Air Force. Jones qualified for Air Force Pilot Training School and Advanced Pilot Training School. Subsequently, he took to the skies as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

Assigned to the 37th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron in Burlington, Vermont, Jones became part of the 26th Air Division of the Air Defense Command, ADC — playing a crucial “first line” defensive role against potential Russian air invasions. However, the base where he was stationed was closed as part of a transition from interceptor aircraft to an increased focus on missile defense systems. In retrospect, Jones believes, this was somewhat premature.

Though challenging and demanding, Jones enjoyed being a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. However, it was not the lifetime career he preferred; he decided to resign from his regular commission and resume his career in engineering. Due to successive world crises in Berlin and Cuba, Jones' initial attempts at resignation were denied.

SACRIFICE AND CHANGE

Jones’ final year of service was spent on a remote tour in Thailand, where he was part of a small team of USAF personnel tasked with teaching air defense procedures to Thai Air Force personnel as the Vietnam War escalated. The separation from his family — including his wife and 18-month-old twin sons — was a brutal sacrifice.

After serving with honor and distinction, Jones left the Air Force and accepted a position with General Dynamics in Fort Worth. There he engaged in design work on the environmental control system for the F-111 aircraft. He enjoyed a rewarding career spanning 34 years with General Dynamics and its successor, Lockheed Martin Aircraft, primarily focusing on mechanical systems design and management. His contributions extended to programs such as the F-16, A-12, F-22 and F-35, providing him with stable employment in an industry known for its instability.

AN HISTORIC MOVE

Lady Luck smiled upon them as they found their ideal home in 1997. As retirement beckoned, Bob and Beverly Jones found peace and tranquility in the historic and neighborly town of Granbury, surrounded by family, friends and the beauty of nature. Initially, they upheld their attendance at Western Hills Baptist Church in Fort Worth for roughly five years, worshipping alongside longstanding friends. Following this, they transitioned to becoming members of Lakeside Baptist Church in Granbury, a dedication spanning two decades.

As they approached the milestone of 90 years of age, Jones and his wife decided to retire from skiing and SCUBA diving, opting instead to focus on their shared passion for shooting dove, waterfowl and clay targets. 

Embracing the changing seasons of life, they find joy and fulfillment in the simple pleasures of nature, the camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts, and the love of family. They have been blessed with four children, 13 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren, with more expected. They delight in spending as much time as possible with their family.

And so, as the sun sets on another day, Jones smiles as he recalls a life filled with love, faith, and adventure. Though the years have brought their share of trials and triumphs, he remains grateful for every step of the journey, knowing each chapter has led him closer to the place he calls home.