category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Tom Jones

Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences

Tom Jones

From his first day at Gardner-Webb College in November 1979 to his last day at the University in May 2022, Dr. Tom Jones focused his passion and energy on his students. A native of Fayetteville, N.C., he was born in 1949 to Hubert H. and Margery Golson Jones.

He loved outdoor activities—hiking, climbing, white-water canoeing, skiing and gardening—and science and discovery. Two professors changed his future by demonstrating how he could use his interests to inspire others. “When I started college, there was no way I was ever going to teach or do botany,” Jones reminisced. “I thought I was going to be the next Jacques Cousteau (a famous marine explorer and inventor from the late 20th century). However, I had two phenomenal professors who got me involved in botany. Ms. Pauline Longest and Mr. Phillip Crutchfield at Methodist College (Fayetteville, N.C.) became my role models. They pushed me, and pushed me some more. I ended up serving as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in biology my last two years there and even took over some of the lectures for general biology my senior year.”

Jones received his Bachelor of Science in biology and minor in chemistry from Methodist College in 1971. He completed his graduate studies at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, earning his Master of Science in Botany with a minor in Zoology in 1973 and his Ph.D. in Botany with an interdisciplinary minor in 1983. While at N.C. State, Jones was honored with the Martha Sue Sebastian Award as the Outstanding Teaching Assistant in the Botany Department.

His wife, Miriam, brought the couple to Boiling Springs, because she was offered a job in the Gardner-Webb library. “I followed my wife here,” Jones offered. “We had a commuting marriage between Boiling Springs and Laurinburg, N.C., and the coin toss went this way.”

They only planned to stay a couple of years, but during that time, they fell in love with Boiling Springs and the campus community. In 1981, GWU offered him a full-time job, and he accepted. “It’s been an eventful 42 years,” Jones reflected. “This was never a job for me, this was a passion, and those relationships were huge.”

Like his mentors, Jones said he challenged students in class, but his concern went beyond academics to their well-being—and he knew how to have fun. Bryan Morales-Gonzalez, ’20, recalls the adventures he had with Tom. “He was always one to make sure that students had a great time, no matter what adventure they went on, such as stopping on a trail to give you something to eat off the ground, little roots and stuff. He would dig them up and then cut them up and feed it to you, or pick random leaves,” Morales-Gonzalez recalled. “It was good stuff, just different. It always made for a memorable experience.”

Tom Jones often took his classes outside.

Casey Almond, a ’22 alumna with a degree in nursing, said with Jones’ encouragement, she wrote a 40-page thesis on breast cancer that she presented at the National Collegiate Honors Council’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Jones helped her arrange her full schedule to be able to complete the project. “He truly helped me through that,” she said. “He really is a great encourager. He will push you to your limits and help you realize you can be whatever you want to be in this life. He gives great advice.”

Jones was also known for his antics involving Augustus, his pet tarantula, who was always a favorite at events for GWU admissions. However, a couple of times, faculty and staff in the Department of Natural Sciences have received upsetting emails from Jones written in a jovial, sing-song manner. At his retirement celebration, Amy Revis, administrative assistant for the departments of natural sciences and mathematics, recalled an email that went something like this: “Augustus at times goes on a trip with a student or perhaps goes on a walkabout.” On one of those occasions, former GWU Chief of Police Barry Johnson located Augustus, who was still in the lab. Tom was about to tell him how to scoop up the spider, when Johnson responded, “‘I found him, if there’s any scooping, it will be you, Tom,’” Revis remembered.   

In addition to his teaching duties, Tom was the director of the Honors Program. He helped to establish courses and criteria, and to start the Honors Student Association, which is service-oriented. “I remind folks that Pro deo et Humanitate means something to me, and I hope it means something to everybody,” he observed.

One of the service projects was to help fill backpacks with food for elementary schoolchildren who need meals and snacks on the weekends. “You may not think certain things are biggies, but we’ve been helping [email protected] with Bulldog Backpacks for a while,” Jones shared. “We can do it in a half an hour, but the people who receive those benefits greatly appreciate it.”

Another honors service project that groups have participated in for 25 years was cleaning the New River in West Jefferson, N.C. While pulling trash out of the river, students were also introduced to new life skills. “Some had never camped before and never prepared food for a big group,” Jones explained. “They had never canoed before. They will never, ever throw anything into a lake again.”

He also coordinated trips for students—to Europe and in the United States. “I love the fact that we have had the opportunity to travel with students all over, sometimes it is international, sometimes it is just to the Greenway,” Jones said.

Dr. Tom Jones, center, and his wife Miriam, left, visit with Dr. Helen Tichenor, emerita of International programs, at an event on campus.

Joy Smith, ’20, said the Honors Program broadened her horizons. “I got to travel so many places that I never would have went—Boston, New Orleans. I got to experience so many things—like I never would have gone canoeing to clean up a river without Dr. Jones. He is such a cheerleader for students. The love he has for his students is unparalleled.” 

Prior to his retirement, Jones served several years as the University Mace Bearer, an honor designated to the longest serving faculty member.

Jones is thankful for the mentorship of his Gardner-Webb colleagues and for the many students he’s been privileged to teach. “I hope I have left behind, primarily a group of alums, who have their own passions, who realize that learning is not just sitting in the classroom or sitting in a lab—that whole idea of a lifelong learner,” he asserted. “I love my wife; I love my daughter (Nikki). I love my colleagues, and I love my students, past and present. It’s been a pleasure at Gardner-Webb. Thank you for letting me be a member of this community.”

Sources: Interview – Noel T. Manning II, Spring 2022

Tom Jones retirement celebration, May 2022

Written and posted by Jackie Bridges, December 2022

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