You can feel it when you meet certain individuals. You know they are successful just by the confidence they exude. The young folks these days call it swagger.
Call it confidence or call it swagger – Lew Jones had it.
When I first met Jones way over a decade ago, he had that aura. Some may call it class, but whatever you call it Jones had it.
I guess it was on the local softball fields that I first met Jones.
We learned a lot about each other back then.
Jones found out that I had a handicapped son and I don’t believe he ever saw me that one of the first things out of his mouth was an inquiry into my son’s well-being.
Jones was proud of where he came from and he was proud of what he accomplished without being a boor about it.
Jones accomplished things most men would never dream of, but you would never find out about them if you didn’t pry.
Like the time I was looking at his scrapbook and saw a newspaper article.
I pointed it out and Jones was almost embarrassed to a point that I mentioned it.
The article said that while playing for a Milwaukee Braves farm club the night before, Jones had three hits against a pitcher that would become a top-notch pitcher for the Cleveland Indians – Jim “Mudcat” Grant.
Jones grew up in Sanford. This gave him an opportunity to learn a lot about baseball. At that time, Sanford was a big spring training venue for Major League Baseball.
The African-Americans of that city had an opportunity to get up close and personal with the players of their race. The local African-Americans took in a lot of the players because the players couldn’t stay in hotels.
A young Jones learned a lot from his heroes. He was proud of the fact that his mother “took in” a lot of the New York Giants’ African-American players. He particularly remembered Hank Thompson.
Jones’ mother was a big influence in his life. She made sure he did things the right way and she made sure he understood what education meant.
To say Jones was a success at most things he tried is an understatement.
He joined the scouts as a youngster and became an Eagle Scout at age 15.
He went into the United States Air Force and came out a Lieutenant Colonel. He went into the field of education and became an administrator. He worked for the Pentagon.
In 1947, Jones became the first athlete to get a baseball scholarship from Florida A & M and upon graduation, he became the first male athlete to sign a professional contract.
One day Jones invited me over to his house for a little get together he was having. He said his wife Barbara would be cooking up a little food. He said he was having over some old friends and thought I would enjoy it.
When I got there, Barbara had enough food to feed one of Lew’s old ball teams.
When I got there, there were 12 couples, all graduates of Florida A & M.The men had all been coaches and between them, they had coached over 100 players who had became professional athletes. The men were successful, but the ladies were also. They had prepared many doctors, lawyers and doctors for the world.
Both the men and the ladies kept talking about someone they were calling “she”. They said things like “she” would love being there and wouldn’t it be nice if “she” could be there.
By listening, I found out “she” was the late, great Althea Gibson, one of their old chums from Florida A & M.
Gibson won 11 Grand Slam titles in tennis.
That was one day I kept my mouth shut. I learned a lot about Gibson and all of the other athletes the old coaches had been associated with.
One of the coaches gave me a cookbook he had published and my wife still gets it out for a special meal.
When I looked down at Jones in his casket last week, he looked at peace. Even in death, he still had that look of confidence on his face.
If the citizens of the world today got along with each other like Jones did, our world would be a better place.
Jones worked so passionately at his endeavors. He used a lot of heart in the classroom and on the athletic field. In the end, it was his heart that let him down.
I learned a lot from Jones. I just hope that I am able to use some of the things I learned from him in a way to make this here place a better place to live.