Edgar L. Jones, who wrote thousands of editorials for The Sun and hundreds of Friday columns for The Evening Sun in a 33-year career, died of pneumonia Friday at Frederick Villa Nursing Center in Catonsville.
Mr. Jones, who had dementia, was 86 and lived in Windsor Hills.
In his last Evening Sun column in 1980, Mr. Jones suggested the wording of his own obituary:
"In keeping the same position for more than 33 years without promotion -- or, for that matter, without demotion -- Mr. Jones lived up to an assessment made by his first editor in New York, James P. Grady, who said of him in 1940, `Jones may not be brilliant, but he's steady.'"
None of his editorials "springs readily to mind," he wrote, "such being their transitory nature," but in the fanciful prose of Mr. Jones' day, they served as binding threads in the warp and woof of the urban tapestry. Warps and woofs aside, he laid claim to have written an editorial on the same subject on the same day for each newspaper.
Mr. Jones was the only editorial writer to work for both newspapers at the same time, said James H. Bready, a retired Evening Sun editorial writer. "We were at each other's throats. To have Jonesie writing for the evening paper made everyone feel good, especially Evening Sun readers."
Mr. Bready observed that Mr. Jones was "the quintessential New Englander, taciturn and shrewd, not a glad-hander. He was always the observer."
In his columns and editorials, Mr. Jones eschewed headline-grabbing topics, choosing instead to write about public works, education and the lower echelons of city government. Notebook in hand, Mr. Jones could be found at inner-city schools, crisis centers, sewage plants and dump sites.
"As an interviewer," Mr. Jones wrote of himself in the 1980 column, "he asked many questions and listened intently, seeking always to grasp the essence of Baltimore's being and thus attain the wisdom of an urban authority."
Said Theo Lippman Jr., a historian and a retired Sun editorial writer: "There's an old cliche that editorial writers are often wrong but seldom in doubt. Edgar was often in doubt but seldom wrong."
Added Baltimore civic leader and former state school board president Walter Sondheim: "He was one of the greatest adopted Baltimoreans I've ever known. He was a wonderful neighbor, bright, considerate and honest -- a brilliant writer."
Sidney Hollander, a retired opinion research analyst, said, "Edgar had that little twist when he wrote that kept his views from sounding saccharine, even though he had a large dose of humanity."
A direct descendant of Pilgrims John and Priscilla Alden, Mr. Jones was born in 1915 in Hingham, Mass., attended schools in Maine and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1937. His first jobs were with the Back Bay Leader in Boston and as a staff writer for Women's Home Companion in New York.
A self-described pacifist, Mr. Jones volunteered as an ambulance driver with the British Eighth Army in Africa. His letters from the North African desert came to the attention of editors at the Atlantic Monthly. He was discharged in 1943, and after nearly a year of recovery from dysentery, was dispatched as the magazine's Pacific correspondent, observing at close hand the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
In 1944, he married the former Gertrude "Trudi" Studley, of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and the couple moved to Baltimore in 1946 "to try it for five years," Mrs. Jones recalled.
During his Baltimore career, Mr. Jones seldom wrote about his war experiences or his pacifism. But several of his Atlantic Monthly essays have been widely reprinted. In 1946, he decried McGeorge Bundy's call for peacetime military training.
"What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought, anyway?" he wrote. "We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts."
His views were potentially troublesome when he arrived at The Sun, Mr. Jones wrote in his mock obituary, but "awkwardness was adroitly avoided by Philip M. Wagner, then editor of The Sun, who assigned the fledgling initially to the subject of oyster conservation. This led naturally to pollution, and upstream from there into Baltimore, where Mr. Jones found a career's worth of subject matter as he savored the fullness of the urban experience, from riding on a trash truck to being mugged."
A memorial service will be scheduled.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Jones is survived by a daughter, Barbara Jones, of Bisbee, Ariz.; a son, Robert Jones, of North Bridgton, Maine; a sister, Dorothy Williams, of Winchester, Mass.; and a grandson. A son, Dana, died in 1973, and an infant son, Christopher, died in 1946.