Back in the 1960s, Robert Woodruff gave $4 million to the MERIT Campaign for Emory, which raised $35 million during the presidency of Sanford Atwood. (MERIT stood for Mobilizing Educational Resources and Ideas for Tomorrow.) Part of those funds from Woodruff went in 1969 to the construction of the library that bears his name. Twenty-five years later, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation gave $2.5 million toward the expansion that opened in 1998 and included a room named for Joseph W. Jones.
Few spaces on campus see as much activity as the Jones Room, which hosts meetings of the University Senate, lectures by visiting scholars, poetry readings and literary discussions, and receptions for retiring faculty and staff. Yet while a handsome oil portrait of Joseph W. Jones hangs on the south wall of the room, hardly anyone knows who he was.
Joe Jones had begun work for the Cola-Cola Company in 1935 as a secretary in his native state of Delaware. The company had moved there from Atlanta two years earlier to avoid a tax on intangible assets imposed by the Georgia legislature. In 1946, after that tax was rescinded and the company prepared to return to Atlanta, Woodruff hired Jones as his personal assistant and later made him his chief of staff, executive aide, assistant treasurer, and eventually senior vice president and member of the board of directors of the company.
Calling Jones his “most trusted business associate,” Woodruff appointed Jones in 1972 as chair of the Trebor Foundation (“Robert” spelled backward), which was later renamed the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. As chair of the foundation, Joe Jones partnered with Boisfeuillet Jones, who was by then president of the Woodruff Foundation, to dispense incalculable beneficence to the City of Atlanta and to educational, health, and other nonprofit institutions throughout the state. These institutions included, of course, Emory University, where Joe Jones served on the Board of Visitors.
As an indispensable aide to Woodruff, Joe Jones read all of Woodruff’s correspondence and answered much of it himself, whether dealing with US Senators or reviewing uniforms for the Ichauway Plantation softball team. He demonstrated a winsome kindness and tact in responding to the countless requests that came to Woodruff from people who knew of his great wealth and generosity and were in need of scholarships for their children or a new roof for their house or a new furnace for their church.
After Woodruff’s death in 1985, at the age of 95, Joe Jones served as executor of his estate and worked with Linda Mathews and Ginger Cain (now Smith) in Special Collections to place Mr. Woodruff’s and his own papers in what is now the Rose Library. Jones also supported placing the papers of Ralph McGill and other Atlanta notables there. The boards of the Woodruff, Lettie Pate Evans, and Joseph B. Whitehead Foundations followed Jones’s example by placing the records of those foundations and individuals at Rose Library as well. Pete McTier, longtime president of the Woodruff Foundation before his retirement a few years ago, continued Jones’s interest in Special Collections and helped garner foundation support for the latest renovation of the Woodruff Room on the top floor of the library.
In wrapping up this trilogy of blog posts about three very able servants of the common good, perhaps I can quote some of the citation read in 1985 when Joe Jones received an honorary degree from Emory. In some ways, it applies to all three of the wise men who helped guide Robert Woodruff’s philanthropic spirit. It reads:
“Remarkable administrator, public-spirited citizen, devoted friend and counselor, you have brought to your calling . . . that rare capacity to apprehend the whole of a worthy enterprise while yet attending to its every important detail. . . [Y]our sound judgment, as well as your friendship, have influenced the most wealthy and powerful of this city. No one could have proved to be a more effective or far-sighted steward of such a trust.”
May those of us who continue to benefit from their stewardship never forget these three wise men.