Carleton Jones

[ Age 84 ] Former Sunday Sun reporter, author and critic was known for stylish writing and love of Maryland history.

January 05, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

John Carleton Jones, a former longtime Sunday Sun reporter, author and critic who was known for his stylish writing and love of Maryland history, died from complications of dementia Dec. 29 at an assisted-living facility in Shallotte, N.C. The former Westminster resident was 84.

Mr. Jones was born in Columbia, Mo. He was raised there and in Washington, where his father, Army Gen. Lloyd E. Jones, a West Point graduate, held a military assignment during the 1930s.

During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served with Special Operations as a staff sergeant, where he edited a military newsletter from a bombed-out high-rise in Manila, the Philippines.

It was while serving there, that Mr. Jones became close friends with Weldon Wallace, his co-editor, who had been The Sun's music critic before the war.

Before returning to Baltimore, Mr. Wallace advised Mr. Jones that if he wanted, he would help him get a job on The Sun and that he only needed to call.

In 1949, after graduating from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in history, Mr. Jones went to work as a cub reporter for The State in Columbia, S.C.

One day in 1952, when he became frustrated at work, Mr. Jones remembered his old friend's offer and called him. A few minutes later, Charles H. "Buck" Dorsey Jr., The Sun's managing editor, called him back and hired him over the phone.

Mr. Jones, who was known as Carleton, worked the police districts and was a general assignment reporter until leaving the newspaper in 1955. He worked for the next 13 years in advertising and public relations before returning to The Sunday Sun in 1968 as real estate editor.

From 1968 until 1976, he wrote a weekly commentary on local and state development and architectural preservation.

He later became a writer for the old Sunday Sun magazine, where he was able to combine his encyclopedic historical knowledge of Maryland, its culture and people, which he presented in an elegant writing style that was full of subtle nuances, color and flourishes.

"Carleton was a really likable person and always interesting to talk to. He was a creative feature writer that was comparable to no one," said John H. Plunkett, former assistant managing editor of The Sun, yesterday. "He was also a rich and original character and always a pleasant guy to be around."

Mr. Jones had the gift of being able to put readers into a story while illuminating history and its attendant characters with all of their foibles, oddities, vices, and buffooneries.

"He had a rollicking sense of humor and was unfailingly gracious, an unusual trait in the news business. He was a classy, classical man," recalled Rob Kasper, a newsroom colleague.

Mr. Jones called all male newsroom colleagues "Dad."

"Remarking once casually about an historical event that happened in '54, I asked him, 1954? `No, Dad, 1854,' he said. To him, that was yesterday," Mr. Kasper said.

Before retiring in 1992, he had been the Sunday Sun's restaurant critic, authored articles on food and wrote "Maryland Back Tracks" - later simply "Back Tracks."

Mr. Jones developed an abiding affection for Baltimore and its architecture that he carefully gathered on long, studied walks through its neighborhoods.

He often said he preferred Baltimore, with its comfortable and ancient gentility as opposed to the cold harsh hauteur of Philadelphia, New York or Boston.

In a 1994 article in The Sun that asked the question whether Maryland is Northern or Southern, Mr. Jones replied that Baltimore did not resemble the South. And after the Baltimore Fire of 1904, he added, the city's look became "the husk of a big Victorian City with an Edwardian girdle draped across its middle."

"There was always a certain panache in his writing, and it was obvious that he enjoyed life," said James H. Bready, retired Evening Sun editorial writer and former Sunday Sun book columnist.

Though he was urbane and witty, Mr. Jones never took himself too seriously. He remained the personification of a Southern gentleman, which earned him the nickname of "Colonel."

"He was an Edward Everett Horton character right out of a Fred Astaire movie who brightened that dreary cell that the Sunday Sun was during the 1970s," said former colleague Stephen C. Hunter, now a film critic for The Washington Post. "He had an elegant way of talking and walking and seemed to always be above it all. He was a wonderfully generous man."

Though an excellent cook, Mr. Jones was no food snob, and could praise classical French cooking one moment and a Route 40 diner's cuisine the next.

He once gave his recipe for beef burgundy in a 1991 article in The Sun.

"At our house, the stew is a three sentencer. It goes like this," he wrote. "Take a pound or two of sirloin tips and brown them in butter or oil. Throw in some chopped potatoes and onions and about 3 cups of water and a measuring cup of burgundy or any stout red wine. Put on a lid and turn the heat way down to a low simmer."

He concluded: "You can go to a movie or take a long nap, and still end up with a dish that is as good as you'll get in many restaurants."

While opening a California jug wine once before guests, which he did with the characteristic flourish of a professional sommelier, he carefully sniffed the metal cap, and pronounced it the "finest wine ever loaded aboard a tank car in Modesto."

A popular lecturer, he was the author of several books on Maryland history and the origins of Baltimore street names.

His wife of more than 20 years, the former Francoise Haffner, died in 2006.

Services were held Tuesday.

Surviving are a daughter, Sophia Howes of Morgantown, W.Va.; a stepson, Pete Jones of Naples, Fla.; a stepdaughter, Evelyne M. Bernat of Bolivia, N.C.; and three grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Marie Jo Meeth ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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