Penn State President Eric Barron was quick to compliment W. Terrell Jones, but Jones was even quicker with his reply.
After eight years away, Barron had come back to lead the university — where he had served for two decades on the faculty and as dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences — this spring when he ran into his old friend, the longtime vice provost for educational equity.
“Terrell, you haven’t changed a bit,” Barron recalled saying.
Jones returned the favor — with a characteristic humorous twist. “Eric, you haven’t changed a bit either ... except you lost your eyesight.”
Barron’s recollection drew laughs Tuesday at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center during a university memorial service for Jones, who died Aug. 19 at 64 from a long illness.
Colleagues, former students, friends, Jones’ wife, Carla Roser-Jones and their three grown children gathered not so much to mourn a loss as to remember a life and 33 years at Penn State devoted to fostering educational equity, promoting social justice and teaching, counseling and mentoring students.
“I’m honored to celebrate the life of a man who I always admired for his deep commitment to students, his warm and caring personality and his wonderful sense of humor,” Barron said.
Jones, a Lock Haven University graduate, started at Penn State in 1980 as a residence hall area coordinator in East Halls. Four years later, he became the associate director of the Division of Campus Life, then served an administrative fellowship in the Office of the President in 1989.
The next year, he was named deputy vice provost of educational equity. After a one-year hiatus at Lock Haven, he rose to his last position in 1997. As vice provost, he was instrumental in creating and implementing the university’s strategic plan for supporting diversity.
When he was a dean forming his college’s diversity plan, Barron said, he worked closely with Jones.
“And interestingly, it took me a long time to realize, whereas I thought I was pushing, I was also being mentored by Terrell,” Barron said. “His touch was so gentle.”
Barron said Jones, with his “gentle disposition,” possessed “the rare ability to offer opinions without polarizing, but he never minced words when he saw an injustice that was occurring.” He said he thinks Jones would be proud that Insight into Diversity magazine, for the second straight year, recently gave Penn State its National Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.
“He had a profound, lasting impact on the way I think as an individual and a university leader,” Barron said.
Other colleagues offered heartfelt memories.
Deborah Atwater, an associate professor emerita of communication arts and sciences and African and African-American studies, recalled the “caring, giving, kind and vibrant man” who became a close friend, trusted colleague and sage adviser.
In describing Jones, she quoted Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“Terrell always made me feel better, no matter what,” Atwater said. “He always made me laugh. He always made me smile.”
She said she’ll miss most seeing the “twinkle in his eye” and “his famous humorous stories,” even the ones at her expense.
“The world is a better place because of Terrell Jones, and I’m glad for a short while he was part of my world,” Atwater said.
“His lifetime of devotion, service and self-sacrifice serve as a monument to the exemplary man he was. His humility, integrity and brilliant sense of humor will continue to inspire those who knew him.”
James Stewart, a professor emeritus of labor studies and employment relations and African and African-American studies, served as Penn State’s first vice provost for educational equity. In memory of his friend, he urged “all of us who believe in educational equity as a fundamental mission of what it means to say ‘We are Penn State’ ” to carry on the life’s work of Jones.
“Although Terrell left us much too soon, he left us a solid legacy and blueprint that can guide us as we continue to strive to make Penn State all it can be,” he said.
Harold Cheatham, a former professor of counselor education and counseling psychology, met Jones at the start of his Penn State career and served on his doctoral committee. His friend, he said, personified the biblical admonition to be a steward of God-given talents and serve others.
“It is my witness that as a steward, Terrell ranked summa cum laude,” Cheatham said, ending by saying farewell to “my beloved brother and friend, our beloved brother and friend.”
Choking up, Jones’ daughter, Sara Roser-Jones, thanked the speakers and the Penn State Essence of Joy choir, which sang two pieces for the service.
“The outpouring of kindness, love and support has overwhelmed us since Dad’s passing,” she said.
Her father, the first of his family to attend college, never forgot being helped as a bewildered freshman by an assistant dean who took an interest in him, she said, noting he “always felt a duty to pay that good fortune forward.”
“That is the challenge he leaves with us,” she said. “Can we continue to do for others to make Penn State a better place?”