Alexander Gray Jones

Somerset County Lawyer Was Active In Civil Rights And Served On The Washington College Board Of Governors

November 06, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Alexander Gray "Sandy" Jones, a retired Somerset County lawyer who had been a civil rights activist, public school advocate and a longtime member of the board of visitors and governors at Washington College, died Saturday of multiple organ failure at his Chestertown home. He was 82.

Mr. Jones, the son of a lawyer and homemaker, was born and raised in Princess Anne. After graduating from Princess Anne High School in 1945, he served in the Army during the waning days of World War II.

After the war, he attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Salisbury State before transferring to Washington College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1951.

While studying at the University of Sheffield in England on a Fulbright scholarship, Mr. Jones met and fell in love with another student, the former Catherine McGoohan, whom he married in 1952.

The couple lived in Baltimore while Mr. Jones earned a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1955.

He returned to Princess Anne to practice law with his father in the firm of Jones & Jones, which had been established by his grandfather.

"It was a general law practice, and he was fond of saying, 'I'll take anything that walks in the door,' " Mrs. Jones said. "It was a rural practice - farmers, watermen and townspeople - and he never turned anyone away."

Mr. Jones was known for his commitment to public service, education and civil rights.

He was 6 years old when George Armwood, an African-American who had been charged with attacking a white farmer's wife, was dragged from a Princess Anne jail on Oct. 18, 1933, by a mob and lynched. It was the last recorded lynching in the state.

"He was shielded from it but certainly knew the story," said a daughter, Kathleen Jones of Chestertown. "He talked about it because it was a source of such terrible shame and had left a stain on the town."

Ms. Jones added that her father was "deeply committed to his civil rights work and doing the right thing for the town he so dearly loved."

During his years in Princess Anne, he was a member and chairman of many civic causes.

"He had grown up during a difficult time of segregation in Princess Anne," said Jack S. "Jay" Griswold, a longtime friend and fellow member of the board of visitors and governors at Washington College.

"He was a wonderfully open and nonjudgmental individual who, in the best sense of the word, wanted to redress those issues," said Mr. Griswold. "He was a man who saw people as individuals and had no pretensions."

Mr. Jones had been president of the Somerset Bar Association and vice president of the board of governors of the Maryland State Bar Association.

For nearly 20 years, he was a member by court appointment to the Maryland Court of Appeals Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and was one of the three drafters of the new Maryland District Court rules in 1971.

In 1973, he was elected as a fellow to the Maryland Bar Foundation and a decade later, to the American College of Trial Lawyers.

"Sandy even once argued a case before the Supreme Court. Not many attorneys can say that," said retired Prince George's County Circuit Judge James L. Lombardi, who got to know Mr. Jones through his work on the Court of Appeals Committee on Rules of Practice.

"Even though he lost the case, it was still a real feather in his legal career," said Judge Lombardi. "And when it came to working for civil rights in Princess Anne, both he and Catherine won over the whole town."

He also applauded Mr. Jones' ability as a "great storyteller with a great voice and a fine sense of humor."

After retiring in 1985, Mr. Jones moved to Chestertown, where he served as president of the Mardel Chapter at Washington College and served for 30 years until stepping down in 1997 as a member of the college's board of visitors and governors.

"He was very generous to the college and encouraged us to be the same," Mr. Griswold said.

"He was a marvelous man and the conscience of the college. He was a strict constitutionalist and always made sure that all of the correct procedures were followed," he said. "Sandy really was a man for all seasons."

Lawrence S. Wescott, a retired lawyer and college board member who was a classmate of Mr. Jones at Washington College, recalled Mr. Jones' dedication to his school. "He was always very generous with both his time and money when it came to Washington College," Mr. Wescott said.

"He was a very intelligent and principled man, and would not bend those principles for anything," Mr. Wescott said.

Mr. Jones enjoyed listening to classical music, hunting and fishing.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown.

Also surviving are a son, Patrick Jones of Chestertown; a daughter, Karen Nichols of Annapolis; and eight grandchildren. Another son, Peyton Jones, died in 2004.

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