John M. Jones III, Longtime Sun Publisher, Dies At 101
John M. Jones III, 101, longtime publisher of The Greeneville Sun and a major force in local economic development and civic life from the late 1940s to the late 1990s, died Tuesday afternoon.
Despite his advanced age, Jones had until very recently enjoyed strong basic health for many years. However, he suffered a serious spiral fracture in his left upper arm at his home on Sunday evening, June 26.
A representative said that the bone apparently was very brittle and suddenly gave way while Jones was walking from a sitting room to his bedroom, using a walker, as usual, and accompanied by caregivers.
After treatment at Johnson City Medical Center, he was transferred from the hospital to Laughlin Healthcare Center here on June 30, where since then he had been receiving rehabilitative therapy for the broken bone.
For other health-related reasons, the family representative said, Jones took an unexpected turn for the worse on Sunday, and died about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Healthcare Center.
The representative said that his passing was very peaceful, and took place with family present.
PROFESSIONAL, CIVIC LEADERSHIP
A former president of the Tennessee Press Association, Jones was also a former board member of what was then the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now the Newspaper Association of America).
He served multiple terms as a member of the board of directors of the Associated Press (AP), the world’s largest newsgathering body.
Jones was also an original member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and is widely regarded as the unofficial “father” of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
JOINED SUN IN 1945
A native of Sweetwater, Tenn., he joined the Sun in December 1945 following almost four years of service with the U.S. Army in World War II.
Although he did not have prior newspaper experience, Jones joined the Sun as business manager at the request of his mother-in-law, the late Edith O’Keefe Susong, who was publisher of the Sun and its predecessor newspapers from 1916 until her death in 1974.
He found newspaper work very fulfilling and enjoyable from the start, and he and his wife, the former Arne Susong, now also 101 years of age, bought a half-ownership in the Sun. He succeeded Mrs. Susong as publisher at her death.
He has continued to hold that position, although, for health reasons, he has not been able to be active in the management of the paper for more than 10 years.
KEY FACTOR IN GROWTH
During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Jones played the primary leadership role in expanding the family’s newspaper interests to include community newspapers in several other East Tennessee towns, including Newport, Athens, Dayton, Rogersville, Loudon/Lenoir City, and Sweetwater/Monroe County.
The company has in recent years become Jones Media, Inc., consisting of community daily newspapers in Greeneville, Maryville and Athens and non-daily newspapers in Newport, Rogersville, Lenoir City, Sweetwater, Dayton, and the High Country of western North Carolina, including Boone, as well as other media-related enterprises.
Other divisions of Jones Media include Tri-Cities, Tennessee-based High Road Digital, a digital marketing agency, and Touring Publications, offering tourist-oriented print and digital products and services in the Great Smoky Mountains region and throughout the Southeastern United States.
He also played a key role in the family’s establishment in 1988 of The Business Journal of Upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, usually known in the region as The Business Journal, which the company operated for several years. It was later sold.
STATE, REGIONAL, NATIONAL ROLES
Over the years Jones served in a variety of leadership roles in the newspaper industry at the state, regional and national levels.
He served as president of the Tennessee Press Association in 1963-64. He also served as a member of the boards of directors of both the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the American Newspaper Publishers Association (now the Newspaper Association of America).
In addition, in the 1980s he was elected to three 3-year terms, the maximum, as a member of the board of directors of the Associated Press.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT WORK
In Greeneville, he took a particular interest in economic development and local job growth for some 50 years as a volunteer, and was very influential in the decisions of several industries to locate plants in Greeneville/Greene County.
Over the years he often worked as a leader in the Greene County Foundation, of which he was a strong supporter from its founding days in the 1940s.
He was also active in what was then the Greeneville/Greene County Chamber of Commerce and the Greene County Economic Development Board.
He chaired the Greeneville Industrial Development Bond Board for many years.
His major role in bringing Greene Valley Developmental Center to Greene County was recognized in December 2000 when the GVDC Administrative Building was renamed in his honor.
The presentation had been a well-kept secret and was unexpected by Jones, who was present for a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the institution.
A resolution by the GVDC Board of Trustees stated that Jones “was the primary influence for the location of a developmental center in Greene County,” adding that “since the official opening of Greene Valley Developmental Center in December 1960, [Jones] has continued to support and advocate for the people living and working at Greene Valley.”
Jones also served as the first president of the Greene County Heritage Trust and took a major role in a number of its projects including the restoration of the Doak House at Tusculum College.
He was one of the founding leaders of the United Way of Greene County in the late 1950s, and served as board of directors president in 1959, the local United Way’s first campaign year.
He continued to be a strong supporter of the local United Way and has served as a co-chairman of the UW’s Pillar program since it was initiated.
Jones was also a very active volunteer in fund-raising work for the Sequoyah Council, Boy Scouts of America, and was honored with the Silver Beaver award for outstanding volunteer service to the council.
He has received numerous honors locally for community service and leadership, including the Greeneville Exchange Club Book of Golden Deeds (1984), the Dr. L.E. Coolidge Award for Humanitarian Services (1989), and the Robert C. Austin Award for Distinguished Service to the Community (1994).
In 1994 Jones was named one of the five charter inductees into the Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame, which honors regional leaders for outstanding achievement in business and public service.
He was also honored in 2002 at a special Greene County Partnership event at the General Morgan Inn titled “An Evening To Say Thank You.” The event was co-chaired by Scott Niswonger and Terry Leonard, in cooperation with then-GCP Chairman Rebecca Cutshaw.
Throughout his career Jones was a strong supporter of Greene County agriculture and, in particular, of the University of Tennessee Tobacco Experiment Station (now the University of Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center).
In addition to his civic work in Greeneville/Greene County and Northeast Tennessee, he was one of the original members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and also served for many years as the vice-chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission.
ROLE IN TBI FOUNDING
After the shocking murder of James Lutz in Greene County in 1949 and mistakes by local law enforcement agencies that led to the murder’s being unsolved, Jones concluded that Tennessee badly needed an FBI-type agency at the state level to assist local law enforcement agencies in the investigation of serious and/or complex crimes.
Under his leadership, the Tennessee Press Association campaigned successfully for the creation of such an agency in the early 1950s.
Originally known as the Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Investigation when established under the administration of then-Governor Gordon Browning, the agency was over the years removed from the Department of Safety and professionalized as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
In recognition of his key role in the creation and development of the TBI, when the agency moved into a new headquarters in Nashville in 2000, Jones was asked by then-TBI Director Larry Wallace to be one of the featured speakers at the dedication of the building.
His role in the establishment of the agency is also recognized in the lobby of the headquarters building.
MERRILL’S MARAUDERS SERVICE
During World War II, Jones served as an Infantry officer in the U.S. Army, including service in the China-Burma-India theatre of the war during 1944 and 1945.
He served as an Intelligence officer on the regimental staff of Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill in the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), which became popularly known as “Merrill’s Marauders” after a news story referred to the unit in that way.
The 3,000-man volunteer regiment was a long-range penetration force which operated for some six months behind Japanese lines in Burma from February-August 1944.
Merrill’s Marauders was the first American ground force to fight on the continent of Asia during World War II, and, after the war, provided the modern model for the U.S. Army Rangers and the U.S. Army Special Forces.
A journal kept by Jones during several months of the Marauders campaign became a very important contemporaneous record of the campaign and has been a major source of information on the regiment’s service for both the U.S. government and some authors who have written about the unit.
The diary, together with numerous photos and maps pertaining to the campaign, has been published by the Merrill’s Marauders Association as “The War Diary of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional).”
In the 1990s, Jones collaborated with Dr. James E. T. Hopkins, a battalion surgeon in the Marauders, in a 772-page book on the campaign published in 1999 under the title Spearhead: A Complete History of Merrill’s Marauders Rangers.
Originally, the book was privately published by Dr. Hopkins.
Several years later, after Spearhead had gone out of print, it was re-published through different financing and is available through the Merrill’s Marauders Association, as is Jones’ war diary of the campaign.
In the summer of 2015, Jones and his family were notified by an Association representative that he (Jones), 100 at the time, was believed to be the oldest surviving original member of Merrill’s Marauders.
At the time of that notification, there were believed to be 50 surviving original members of the regiment.
Following the Marauders campaign, Jones became aide-de-camp to Lt. Gen. Raymond A. Wheeler of the U.S. Army, India-Burma theatre commander, and American aide-de-camp to Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, commanding officer of the Southeast Asia Command.
Jones received the Bronze Star and the Soldier’s Medal for actions during his military service, and left active duty at the end of the war with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
The family will receive friends at St. James Episcopal Church from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. on Friday.
The funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. James Church, with interment to follow at Oak Grove Cemetery.
Doughty-Stevens Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.