There's a scene in the classic movie adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine where Rod Taylor's character stares out his basement window as he maneuvers forward in time. In his direct line of view is a mannequin in the display window of a women's clothing store. Staring back and forth from the mannequin to the time machine's date meter, he watches the evolution of fashion as conservative long gowns from the turn of the century ultimately give way to the tight skirts of the late 1950s.
Then, as he moves further ahead in time, he watches the house around him slowly disintegrate, world wars come and go, and the city around him transform into a futuristic metropolis. All the while, the character remains fixed to the same point strapped inside his invention.
Ross Jones, Hopkins vice president and secretary, can relate. He may not have access to a time machine, but like the character in the movie, Jones has stayed in virtually the same position as time marches on. Since his early days as assistant to former Hopkins president Milton S. Eisenhower, Jones has seen 15 buildings erected on the Homewood campus alone, worked with six university presidents and observed a homogeneous, all-male student body evolve into the diverse cultural mix of men and women it is today.
Yet unlike the movie character, Jones was not a passive observer to all this change but rather has played a major role in developing policies that have shaped the university. Now as his 37-year career nears its end, friends and colleagues make it clear that Jones has indeed left his mark upon his beloved university.
"To look at the university, there is no question it is significantly better today than it was say 10 years ago," says Andrew Bozzelli, a member of the board of trustees. "And that is in large part because of Ross' efforts."
He is described by others as "wise," "thoughtful" and a "gentleman." Yet Jones likes to call himself "lucky," "fortunate" and "grateful" to have worked at his alma mater for all these years.
Yet Hopkins wasn't his first choice in schools. Jones grew up in Haddonfield, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia, and when it was time to enroll in college, Jones was prepared to enter his state school, Rutgers. However, fate was to intervene and sent him in another direction. Following the advice of a friend's father, Jones decided he would take a look at Hopkins' campus. The result was love at first sight.
"I thought this was a magnificent campus," Jones says. "I came here by chance. Life takes some very odd turns. But if you keep your eyes and ears open and work hard they generally work out for you."
After graduating with a B.A. in history in 1953, Jones had a three-year stint in the Army, including two years in Japan. While in Japan, he ran an armed forces radio station. Jones' next move was to follow his dream of becoming a newspaper reporter. During his years as a college student, Jones was the editor of The News-Letter, the university's student-run newspaper, and he was a stringer and summer editorial intern at several area newspapers. So following his military service, he opted to enroll in Columbia University, the school from which he would receive his master's in journalism.
In New York, Jones was hired by The Associated Press and was living an exciting, if not lucrative, life as a wire reporter in a major city. Yet Jones was not long for life as a news man. An acquaintance at Columbia asked Jones to return to the school and work in the public affairs office, and he thought the opportunity was too good to pass up.
"It seemed pretty attractive," he says. "They paid me a lot more than AP was paying in those days. And so I did it."
However, while employed at Columbia, Jones made it known to an acquaintance at Johns Hopkins that "if there was ever an opportunity to work at Hopkins, I would like to come back." Three years later, that acquaintance came through on Jones' request.
His first job here, which he began on Sept. 1, 1961, was as executive assistant to university president Milton S. Eisenhower. According to Jones, Eisenhower's assistants were all newspaper people as the former president liked how they had been taught to be generalists, people who could "handle odds and ends and write reasonably well."
Generalist also appears to be a fitting word for someone whose responsibilities at Hopkins have been rather tough to define. While Eisenhower's assistant, Jones says, his boss let him "grow a little bit" as he took on the position of secretary of the board of trustees, a position he held until this month. Some years later, when Lincoln Gordon became president, Jones moved into the position of vice president for public affairs. And for the past seven years, since returning to his post as executive assistant to the president under William C. Richardson, Jones has worn all three hats.
Dennis O'Shea, executive director of Communications and Public Affairs, marvels at the workload Jones has undertaken over the years and says it will be difficult to replace a man who has done so much for the university.
"Any one of the three jobs would kill a lesser person," O'Shea says half jokingly. "You can't replace that kind of experience and wisdom. [Hopkins] is a different place because of him."
O'Shea adds that working with Jones has been a pleasure and certainly has made his job that much easier.
"He's been a calming influence on me," O'Shea says of the man who hired him in 1990. "He has seen it all. Whatever might alarm me, he's seen it before and knows how to approach it constructively."
An example of what Jones has witnessed is the difficult period Hopkins, like many universities, went through in the late 1960s. Jones recounts how it seemed that every week there were protests and rallies on the lawn in front of Eisenhower Library and how the events put "enormous pressures" on then president Lincoln Gordon. Keeping lines of communication open with students, the press and the community were critical at that time, Jones says, and he tried to bring a level of calm to the wild atmosphere.
Those who know Jones say it's his ability to deal with these type of situations that have made him such a valuable asset to the university.
"He never got rattled. No matter what happened he was always very calm," says Mary J. Fetsch, who worked for 25 years with Jones, most of them as assistant secretary to the board of trustees. "He knew he had responsibilities, and that was it. And he always said the right thing at the right time. Everything he did was top drawer."
Yet Jones admits that he was unnerved at times, not because of stress but sometimes by the presence of the many national and international figures he was fortunate enough to meet. Specifically, he remembers the first time President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Milton's brother, came into his office and sat on the edge of his desk.
"The first time he did it I thought I would faint," Jones recalls. "I also got to meet Lyndon Johnson, as he was a very good friend of Milton Eisenhower. It was a wonderful time. I'm very grateful. I couldn't imagine having a greater opportunity."
Yet Jones isn't the only one who is grateful; so are the many university presidents for whom he has worked.
As someone who seemingly knew everybody, Jones was seen as invaluable.
"He is our resident historian, he keeps in touch with literally thousands of alumni and supporters of Hopkins, and he has been the driving force in the university's relations with the Greater Homewood community," President William R. Brody says. "It won't be possible to replace Ross with any one person, or any number of people for that matter."
In fact, former president Richardson liked to call Jones his "switchboard" because of his many ties to those in the university system.
"When I talked with Ross I had the feeling that I was in touch with the entire Hopkins family," says Richardson, who is now the CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. "That's one of the reasons why I had him move from down the hall to the office next to mine. Nobody else was in a better position to juggle the dozen or so things that went on during the day."
In addition to his duties with the president's office and the board of trustees, Jones took on responsibilities of his own. One of those efforts was the establishment of the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, a project initially funded by Hopkins and the U.S. Office of Education, to seek out the strengths, weaknesses and growth potential for the three and a half square miles of city surrounding the university.
Noticing "the decline in the surrounding neighborhood" from his days as a student, Jones arranged for community officials to get together and discuss common problems at a breakfast meeting in 1967. From that initial breakfast, the idea was brought up to create an umbrella organization, incorporated in 1969, that would be an advocate for all the communities surrounding the university.
Jones said the Greater Homewood Community Corporation has been responsible, especially in recent years, for a renaissance in the area surrounding the university, and he is happy that the quality of life has improved so that more and more students, faculty, staff and alumni are deciding to live in the Homewood area.
"It's critical for Johns Hopkins and this whole part of the city," Jones says. "I've said time and again that this portion of Baltimore has so much potential. It's a wonderful place."
Jones was also instrumental in spreading the word about something else he appreciated from his association with Hopkins.
Having lived in Japan with his wife, Lynn, when he was in the Army, Jones knew that if the Japanese youth were introduced to lacrosse, they would embrace it. So in 1984 Jones and then athletic director Bob Scott took equipment to a Japanese school they'd been referred to by a Hopkins alumnus; later they brought the entire Hopkins lacrosse team to play in Japan. Today thousands of Japanese kids play the sport.
He still wonders how it all happened.
"It gives me a lot of satisfaction," Jones says.
Jones also derives much satisfaction from working closely with Hopkins students over the years. Although his responsibilities never were tied directly to the academic part of the university, Jones made sure that students were always front and center in the minds of senior administration.
"He is a champion of the students," Richardson says. "He pushed for the renovation of all the undergraduate student residence halls. Ross' mind was always focused on ways to make our university stronger, not just in the short-term but also 20 years from now."
As Bob Scott, his friend and former colleague, puts it, "Presidents have come and gone, but Ross Jones has been the steadying influence here at Johns Hopkins."
A humble man, Jones is not one to take all the credit for what he's done--"a lot of people are involved with getting anything accomplished," he says--nor is he one to demand attention.
"He doesn't get in front and wave a banner. He does things in a subtle way," says trustee Bozzelli, a classmate of Jones'.
Or, as O'Shea of Public Affairs says, "He deflects credit to others."
Now, nearing his June 30 retirement, Jones is taking on new roles. He was recently appointed vice president and secretary emeritus, effective July 1, and will stay with the university in an advisory position, as well as continuing his ties with the Greater Homewood Community Corporation.
But first Jones plans to enjoy the summer at his island getaway in the St. Lawrence River and to spend time with his six grandchildren.
In all, Jones says he is happy with his decision to move into semi-retirement.
"I'm not sad at all," he says. "I'm so happy with the experience I had here. This is one of the greatest universities in the whole world."
Jones says he is looking forward to what the future holds. As he's said, "Life takes some odd turns." And he is excited about what lies around the next bend.