Howard Lee Jones, Jr.

Published 2:40 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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Dec. 14, 1938 – May 28, 2024

NATCHEZ – Services for Howard Lee Jones, Jr., who died on May 28, will be held Saturday, June 1, at the First Presbyterian Church at 11 a.m. with the Rev. Dr. Joan W. Gandy officiating. Visitation will precede the service from 10 until 11 a.m. at the church with burial following at the Natchez City Cemetery under the direction of Laird Funeral Home.

Lee was born in Natchez on Dec. 14, 1938, to Howard and Mildred Jones. He was predeceased by his parents and his only sibling, Kay Jones Cole.

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He is survived by his wife, Sherry Scarbrough Jones; three sons, Howard (Sally), David (Carol), and Charles (Jennie) Jones; daughter, Liza Cook Kelso; grandchildren, Lee Jones (Britton), Eliza Jones Swisher (Alex), Marina Jones, Harper Jones, Lincoln Jones, Macon Kelso, and Beau Kelso; and great-grandchildren, Kennedy and Holt Jones and Sally and Thane Swisher.

In 1960, after graduating from Louisiana State University with a degree in forestry, Lee became a third-generation employee of J. M. Jones Lumber Company. He brought new life and energy to the company. Noting that the Natchez area had many absentee landowners, Lee drove and flew to reach out to these landowners in person. He gained their trust and entered into timber contracts, many of which are active today. These contracts gave J. M. Jones a solid base for the future.

In the 1970’s, Lee traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua to harvest timber which was shipped to the Port of New Orleans and trucked to Natchez to sell. This was the beginning of his love for the tropics. In 1992, J. M. Jones entered the European market, and Lee later served two terms as chairman of the American Hardwood Export Council [AHEC]. In 1998, he was the first chairman to host an AHEC convention in China.

In 2001, Lee became the sole owner of J. M. Jones. Under his leadership, J. M. Jones was the first American lumber company to go into the Vietnam market. This led to the China market. These were exciting years and hard work for both Lee and Sherry. Until his recent illness, Lee personally dealt with his agents in Europe, China, and Vietnam.

Lee was a hardworking and fair employer, and he regarded his 100 plus employees as family. In 2011, J. M. Jones Lumber Company battled the Great Mississippi River Flood and raised their 30-foot levee to 65 feet. This was accomplished by the employees, family, and friends, with no government assistance. It was a heroic effort covered by newspapers and television broadcasts across the country. One of Lee’s great joys in his later years at J. M. Jones was working at the lumber mill alongside his son, Howard, and his grandson, Lee, and he was devoted to members of both his and Sherry’s families. He was also devoted to the boys he grew up with in Natchez and his Delta Kappa Epsilon [DKE] fraternity brothers from his years at LSU. In his spare time, Lee enjoyed tennis, running, and coaching middle school basketball.

The passion that Lee developed for the tropics in the 1970s soon expanded and extended to Mayan ruins, an interest that he began to share with Sherry in 1976. Merida had the only airport in the Yucatan at the time, and from Merida they launched their treks across the Yucatan—treks that continued all their married lives.  Lee began his exploration of Mayan ruins with his mentor, Ian Graham of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, and Lee himself later became a recognized Mayan scholar.  In addition to Spanish, Lee could speak and read the Mayan language.  He visited, discovered, and mapped over 300 ruins–with Sherry along for over 150 of the expeditions — and his work was published in major periodicals.  Through these archaeological digs, Lee became a member of the Explorers Club, an international organization devoted to those with a passion to explore the unknown.  Lee often commented that he was glad that drones had not yet come into use.  According to Lee, “Drones make it easier to explore but make exploration not nearly so thrilling.”

Lee’s deep religious faith and his love of the First Presbyterian Church sustained him throughout his life. He taught 3rd and 4th grade Sunday school for 30 years and then taught the adult Westminster Sunday school class for 20 years. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he began to email his Sunday school lesson to members of the class, as well as to others, and continued to do so until his death. Lee periodically delivered sermons in the illness or absence of the minister, and he was locally famous for his funeral eulogies.

Lee Jones was a renaissance man who loved everyone and everyone loved him.

The family suggests that donations in Lee’s memory be made to First Presbyterian Church (400 State St.), Historic Natchez Foundation (108 S. Commerce St.), Hoofbeats and Pawprints Rescue (17341 River Road), and Natchez Adams County Humane Society (475 Liberty Rd.), all in Natchez, MS 39120.

Online condolences may be sent to the family at