‘Adored by many’: Owner of J.M. Jones Lumber dies

Published 5:27 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Lee Jones, a beloved member of First Presbyterian Church and a lumber mill owner, died Tuesday morning.

His family owns and operates J.M. Jones Lumber Company, founded in 1911 near Knoxville, Tennessee, and a fixture in Natchez since 1936. But many remember Jones first as their Sunday school teacher at First Presbyterian and as a close friend and excellent speaker at weddings, birthday parties and funerals.

As the president of the lumber mill, now run by his son Howard, Jones’ business took him to places all over the world and so did his ministry, and he made many friends along the way.

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“He was magnificent and adored by so many people,” said Leigh Anderson, whose late husband Irving Anderson and Jones were close friends. “He had such a gift with words and a strong faith. He was so funny and loved everybody. He had friends all over the world.”

Anderson said Jones was among the last of the “Boys of Summer,” a group of friends who stuck with each other from their junior high and high school days into their adulthood.

Together they went on many social outings and watched LSU football games. Though he was roughly nine years younger Jones’ “acolyte” Sammy Gore was privileged to tag along on those adventures, from grueling tennis matches to world travels, he said.

“His is a tremendous loss to me personally,” he said. “I’m just one of many friends who will miss him here in Natchez and abroad.”

Jones was knowledgeable about many things and connected his world knowledge to his Bible studies. He had an enthusiasm for archeology, Gore said, and accompanied field experts on digs in Natchez and the Mayan ruins. When Jones’ health became so that he couldn’t teach Sunday school at the church, he asked Gore to teach his Sunday school class and Gore agreed to do so.

“He was the kind of friend that you could go to for anything,” he said. “He somehow always had an answer that was soothing and made you more comfortable about any problem that you had. He had a devout faith in God that I and many other people respected.”

Anderson said she went to see Jones on Friday and took a plate of fruit salad that he liked and is very thankful that she did, not knowing then that it would be their last meeting on Earth.

“He’s at peace,” she said, adding, “He’s teaching Sunday school in heaven now. I know it.”

Chesney Doyle, a church member and friend to the Joneses, said moving up into Jones’ Sunday school class was like a “rite of passage” for many at their church.

“I have known Lee my entire life not only as the father of my childhood friends but he was also a revered Sunday school teacher,” she said. “Everyone wanted to be old enough to get into Lee’s class. He was an Old-Testament scholar.”

Doyle recalled days spent visiting Jones’ house and him telling her children the story of how his pet donkeys got a cross printed on their backs.

“I was glad that my children got to know him growing up at church,” she said. “My heart goes out to his wife Sherry and his children. He is beloved far and wide.”

Jones taught generations at First Presbyterian beginning with a fourth-grade class for over 30 years before teaching the adult Westminster class. Since COVID-19, he started sending previews of his lessons in emails to everyone in his class, which continued so that anyone who was homebound, sick or lived in other places both regionally and abroad could still follow the lessons.

“He had a devoted following,” Anderson said. “The more people who found out about his lessons the more emails he sent out.”

This continued when Jones became ill. Last week he sent a lesson on the book of Esther.

Annette Holder said she met Jones 45 years ago through his relationship with her friend Sherry before she stood beside them at their wedding.

The loss of Jones is felt by the generations he has reached at the church and on mission trips abroad, she said.

“He’s going to leave a big hole in our community,” she said. As a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher, “he taught all three of my boys and gave a tremendous background of the Old and New Testament. … He was a great man and we’re going to miss him terribly. He brought a lot of joy to people.”

Jones’ attorney JW Seibert represented the business and was a friend.

“He was a fine man, a good client and we enjoyed our relationship both business and social,” Siebert said. “He was also the type that really paid attention to his children. … He was fun to both the older and the younger generations.”

Siebert said his own children enjoyed riding Jones’ burros. He had a “unique personality that was purely Lee Jones,” and was a “pure gentleman.” He ran his company in a positive way, Siebert said.

When the flooding of the Mississippi River threatened his mill, the company built its own private levee that saved the mill.

“Never did he express any type of hopelessness,” Seibert said. “If he saw a problem, he worked his best to resolve it and never complained. You don’t see too many people like Lee Jones.”