Keeping up with the Joneses cannot be done. All Souls’ adjunct clergyman Ross Jones and his wife, Gwin, have served the church worldwide. It is dizzying to relate their life story. It begins in the deepest South.
Ross was born in Woodville, Ms., into a family that included several Episcopal priests and a bishop. Gwin entered the world at Columbus, Ga., but her family is rooted in Louisiana. They met when he was a student at Tulane and she at Sophie Newcomb College, both in New Orleans. Their first date was to see the Campus Flick “Some Like It Hot” with Marilyn Monroe.
Their courtship was conducted largely by mail while Ross attended Kings College in London. At the same time that Ross returned home, Gwin, a student of music history, decided that study abroad sounded so good, she would try it too at the University of Bristol. More letters.
When they married, it was decided they should have taken more time to know each other “but it is too late now,” they agreed. They have 53 years of happy marriage, three children and nine grandchildren to show for it. Their secret? “Marry the right person.”
Ross attended seminary at Sewanee, The University of the South. His first call was to be canon at The Cathedral of Mississippi in Jackson. “My boss was Chris Keller, who was called to be bishop of Arkansas,” Ross said.
Having experienced the “high cotton” of cathedral life, Ross chose to be rector of a small church in the town of Indianola, smack in the middle of the Mississippi Delta and its cotton fields. He served during what Ross calls “the long, hot summer” of the Civil Rights movement—1964. Feelings ran high and schools were disrupted, so Ross volunteered to substitute-teach the 6th grade in an all black public school and had a front-row seat to the disparities of public education at the time.
Having experienced clergy life writ large and small, Ross decided what he would really like to do is be a college chaplain and pursue his PhD. He served eight years as chaplain of Florida State University, Tallahassee. During this time, the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy murdered three FSU Chi Omega sorority girls. Ross conducted the campus-wide memorial service for the slain students and held weekly prayer services in the Chi Omega house thereafter.
Moving right along, the Joneses served parishes in Jacksonville, Fl., and Alexandria, La. The latter move was to be near family as their children grew up.
Ross was called to serve at Trinity Church, Tulsa, OK. This is one of the largest parishes in The Episcopal Church and the couple planned to retire from there.
One quiet, wintry Sunday afternoon, Ross got a call, “How would you like to be Dean of St. George’s College Jerusalem?” Gwin overheard and came running in to add, “Please don’t say no!” But when Ross heard the terms – report for duty in two weeks and serve at the sole pleasure of the bishop – he said no three times. “If the bishop didn’t like me I would be out of a job and a long way from home.”
Finally, the church made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and he served the international Episcopal college for four years. Gwin was the Minister of Hospitality. Always where the action is, Ross served during the height of the Israeli-Palestinian wars. The post as Dean required world travel. It was impossible to keep up with the Joneses in those days.
They chose to retire in Western North Carolina because of a family tradition of camping in these mountains and because their sons and daughter had settled nearby.
Prue and the late Mason Wilson helped them find a house in Asheville.
Time to rest? Not at all. Gwin has served as president of the board of the Smith-McDowell House Museum. Ross has been interim rector at Trinity Church, Spruce Pine; Holy Spirit, Mars Hill; and St. John’s, Haw Creek.
Being able to bloom wherever they are planted, the Joneses say “every place has its own beauty.”