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George Jones

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Obituary: George L. Jones, 85, a symbol of recovery

  • Article by: PAUL McENROE
  • Star Tribune
  • November 15, 2011 - 9:39 PM

In March 1943, George L. Jones captured the heart of a city. A blizzard had paralyzed Minneapolis. Jones and a friend were trying to cross the railroad tracks to get back to West High School. A train from nowhere rumbled out of a cloud of white. His friend ran and beat the train. Jones waited until the coast was clear, then started across the tracks. Suddenly, from the opposite direction, another train roared past, catching the teen and dragging him 3 miles before a switchman in a train yard saw the bloody mess at hand.

For 10 days, Jones lay in a coma while friends donated blood and filled in at his after-school job in a plant making war materials. A dance was thrown, raising $130 toward his hospital bills. It was the kind of newspaper story that ran for days, becoming a metaphor for loyalty, friendship and even the struggles of young men fighting to stay alive in wartime.

Jones, who survived and went on to become chairman and CEO of Northrup King, died on Nov. 6. He was 85.

"What his friends did for him then is how he treated people his whole life,'' daughter Karen Wooldridge recalled. "He was a gentle soul, strong and smart, and he cared about people -- the same as when his friends came to his aid.''

When he emerged from his coma, a newspaper photograph showed the bearded youth with a caption: "George Jones, youthful victim of a spectacular train accident, has triumphed over the grim reaper.'' In the photo, Jones has a slight grin as a nurse hovers over him to comb his hair.

Jones eventually graduated from the University of Minnesota, in three years, then went on to earn a degree from Cornell University.

He married at 20. Woolridge jokingly recalled, "Since he was under 21, by law he had to get a letter signed by his mother granting permission. My mother was his partner every step of the way.''

Jones began his business career at Cargill and eventually became president of the agricultural giant's seed division. He traveled internationally and was instrumental in opening agricultural trade with the then-Soviet Union and Eastern European countries in the mid-1970s.

At the time of the train incident, the then-Minneapolis Daily Times ran an emotional editorial titled "Personal Fight,'' invoking the actions of Jones' friends to rally support for blood drives on behalf of troops fighting in the Pacific and North Africa.

" ... it is fine and cheering to know that a boy worthy of such friends as possessed by George Jones, 16, has pulled out of the shadow. There are a lot of older George Joneses also being hurt today -- George Joneses in the uniform that the 16-year-old of this story is too young to wear.''

"He didn't talk much about what happened to him until the end, when he was going through Alzheimer's and the disease progressed,'' his daughter said. "He was a humble man who didn't talk about himself that way. Ethical. He taught us to do what's right and take care of other people.''

In addition to his wife of 65 years, Carol, Jones is survived by four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.

Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745

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