Terrell Jones never sat behind his desk for very long.
As the Penn State vice provost for educational equity, he was constantly in motion, teaching, speaking and planning in the name of equality and diversity.
Over a distinguished 36-year career, he remained an indefatigable force — until forced to take medical leave this spring.
On Tuesday morning at Mount Nittany Medical Center, cancer finally stilled Jones. He was 64.
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“The university has lost a real champion for diversity,” said former Penn State president Rodney Erickson.
Tom Poole, the vice president of administration for Penn State, called his death “an immeasurable loss for Penn State, the Centre Region and the (c)ommonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
“His advocacy for low-income, first-generation college students and those who experienced discrimination set him apart as a champion for justice,” Poole said. “His vast knowledge of multicultural education and communication made him a highly-sought expert who trained thousands across the state and the nation. His professional life made a profound impact on students, their families and communities and countless colleagues.”
Mourning friends lauded Jones’ leadership in helping create the university’s “A Framework to Foster Diversity” in 1998, a year after he started his last job. The document, a universitywide master plan updated periodically, outlines diversity and equality goals at Penn State.
Joyce Hopson-King, the College of Health and Human Development director of diversity enhancement, said the document constitutes one of Jones’ many legacies, “charging us to uphold and advance and continue to value what it means to be human.”
“His fingerprints, his footsteps, are throughout the university,” she said. “He was just a huge man, a huge presence.”
Starting at Penn State in 1978, Jones rose in educational equity to deputy vice provost and associate vice provost, holding several leadership positions, including president of the Forum on Black Affairs. Midway in his career, he worked at Lock Haven University for a year.
During his career, he taught courses on race relations and cross-cultural counseling, wrote about cultural diversity and presented workshops on diversity in higher education and racial and cultural identity.
“Terrell instituted many programs over the years that were regarded as best practices around the nation,” Erickson said. “He was highly respected in higher educational circles, a frequent speaker and consultant to other universities.”
Erickson said Jones “deserves significant credit” for the high graduation rate among under-represented minority students at Penn State.
“He was just a constant positive reinforcement for those students, and a tremendous role model,” Erickson said. “He spoke frequently to student groups here and at other universities.”
Friends also fondly remembered Jones’ wit and engaging, gregarious personality.
“He will be greatly missed across the university not only for the impact of his contributions to Penn State, but also for simply the wonderful person that he was,” Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones said.
“We will miss his wit, wisdom and patience,” said Greg Petersen, director of broadcasting at WPSU, who served with Jones on the station’s board of representatives.
Hopson-King recalled Jones’ dedication to students and his commitment to seeing them flourish.
“There are many, many families and students who owe that Penn State diploma to his looking all over campus to try to find those last chunks of change to help students get out the door,” she said.
She also admired his sense of humor and his oratorical skills.
“He had a real natural way about him,” she said. “He could have a crowd in the palm of his hands.”
Born Aug. 30, 1949, Walter Terrell Jones grew up in Harrisburg, playing football at John Harris High School and then at Lock Haven. He graduated with a sociology degree in 1972, going on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate in counselor education from Penn State.
JoDee Dyreson, of Petersburg, said her friend loved to fish and cook and “could not be stumped at ‘Name that Tune.’” He was known at their church, Albright-Bethune United Methodist Church in State College, for his weekly children’s sermons.
“In my very experienced opinion, the best sermons of any kind anywhere in the world were in our little church to our children and youth every Sunday morning,” Dyreson wrote.
Jones is survived by his wife, Carla Roser-Jones, whom he met at Lock Haven during their student days; their three grown children and two granddaughters.
“He was just a wonderful, learned human being,” Erickson said. “He could see the good in everyone. He had such a positive attitude, a positive outlook. He was just a terrific person to be around.”