For Rich Jones, state legislatures and the issues they debate stirred a passion that sparked a distinguished career in public policy.
Jones, who was 69 when he died Monday after a 2½-year battle with cancer, spent more than 20 years at NCSL, including 17 years as director of Legislative Programs before joining Bell Policy Center in 2004.
He played a key role in building NCSL’s legislative management program and worked with legislatures on issues including staffing, the legislative process, research, operations and compensation.
“He was a wonderful friend and played a huge role in my professional development,” says NCSL CEO Tim Storey. “He taught me so much, including to have fun and never take things too seriously. He was a prince of a man. His upbeat spirit just made you feel good to be around him. We had some great times, including running probably thousands of miles together. It’s a sad loss.”
Jones grew up in Darby, Pa., earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and played football at Shippensburg University, then received a Master of Public Administration from Penn State. He spent four years as a staffer at the Pennsylvania Legislature before joining NCSL.
Jones was a talented and prolific writer, both for research papers and for State Legislatures magazine.
“He had a unique way of being able to take very complex issues and synthesizing them down for lay people to understand,” says his longtime partner Brenda Erickson, who just retired as a program principal in NCSL’s Staff Services Program.
Jones was a mentor to many NCSL staffers, including Brian Weberg, former director of NCSL’s Center for Legislative Strengthening.
“When Rich hired me into his Legislative Management work group at NCSL in the mid-1980s, it changed my career and life. Rich taught me just about everything I needed to know about how to do my job and do it well,” Weberg says. “He was a stickler for process and methodology and good data and for getting it right. He also had a penchant for following hard work with hard play. It was difficult to keep up with him sometimes, but it was always worth the effort.”
NCSL business trips with Jones, he says, were characterized by long, overscheduled workdays, “followed by a long, late night of non-stop cavorting about, searching for Rolling Stones or Jimmy Buffett cover bands, laughing, storytelling and story-making.”
Jones was a proud policy nerd, Erickson says. “He was an avid reader who liked political history and anything to do with what was happening in the world.”
His genuine affection for people made him an effective communicator, she says.
“He was very good at listening to people and talking to people. When he talked to you, you knew he cared about you and was open to hearing different sides of issues, even if his views weren’t necessarily aligned with them,” Erickson says.
His 18 years at Bell Policy Center were characterized by work in child care assistance, two-gen policy, minimum wage, workers’ rights and protections, fighting predatory lending, retirement security, the state budget, and fiscal policy.
“He worked a lot on predatory lending, pension equality, the ability of people to save money. He was really in touch with lower-income individuals and protecting them, keeping them from being used,” Erickson says
Jones, Weberg says, “was the best among us.”
Jones will be honored with a mass on Monday, Jan. 9 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish, followed by inurnment in Fairmount Cemetery at 1:30 p.m. In place of flowers, the family asks donations be sent to either Sarah Cannon cancer research or Urban Peak in Jones’ name.