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'My whole deal,' says Don Jones, was seizing opportunity

Don Jones Don Jones

Don Jones always roots for the Carolina Panthers — and not just because he's a big football fan. He played football at Wofford College with owner Jerry Richardson, and there's a story there.

With Dr. Don Jones, the irrepressible fundraiser who is retiring after 14 years as executive director of the Henderson County Education Foundation, there's a story everywhere. After graduating in 1958, Richardson got drafted by the Baltimore Colts, one of the great teams of the era. Richardson did not enter the draft as one of the top receivers. He got himself noticed by pestering Johnny Unitas to throw him passes and demanding of Raymond Berry that the all-pro end teach him how to run routes. After he left the NFL, Richardson "took his $5,000 in shares and started Spartan Foods." Hugh McColl, then a small-town banker who founded NCNB, predecessor to NationsBank and Bank of America, loaned him the money.

Jones laughs at the connection.
He loves nothing better than a story about a kid that makes it big by grit and hard work, the kind of kid he stood for when he raised money for the foundation, which spends most of its money on scholarships.
Jones left Wofford and joined the Army, which put him in charge of athletics and recreation at Fort Sill, Okla. A lieutenant colonel wanted Jones to upgrade the base's football team. "If you do a good job, I might get promoted," the colonel told him.
Jones drops names again, this time of GIs that played for him: Herb Adderly, an all-pro cornerback, and Dick Nen, who played baseball for the Washington Senators.
After his Army discharge, he worked for Berry College for 11 years. He married Patsy Farmer Jones in 1962. He was director of Camp Kanuga for seven years, then started a motivational speaking business. He mostly rallied the sales reps at car dealers.
"Richardson gave me some motivational confidence," he said, recalling how his friend would urge the quarterback in the huddle, "Throw it to me. I can catch it." Jones stuck with what he knew. He used slogans from coaches. "Make something happen," Bear Bryant said. Jones used that. Might work to sell a new Galaxy 500.
Under his leadership, the foundation has gone from four scholarships to 63, worth $150,000. Establishing the Education Hall of Fame is another achievement he's proud of. "It's been a sellout all 12 years," he said. "It's one of only five in North Carolina and the only one in Western North Carolina."
During a bout with pneumonia, Jones also suffered a silent heart attack. He lost about 40 pounds and lost his usual exuberant energy.
"I'm going to try to get well first," he said. "I'm doing rehab." He hasn't lost his love of laughter. "Somebody told me don't call it that," he said. "People will think you're on drugs. I'm in cardiac rehab."
He'll keep looking at the bright side, and bringing the bright side to any room he graces.
"I've just been blessed to get an opportunity," he said. "That kind of sums up my whole deal."

Retirement reception for Dr. Don Jones

Café at Park Ridge Health
4-7 p.m. Thursday, May 29
Valet parking available at the main entrance

RSVP by contacting Nancy Bracken at 828-698-8884 or

Donations in honor of Jones may be made to the Henderson County Education Foundation.