Dan L. Jones

Longtime Towson University educator held a variety of positions, including interim president, during his nearly four-decade career

May 17, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Dan L. Jones, former dean of Towson University's College of Liberal Arts who was later the university's interim president, died Thursday of sepsis at Sinai Hospital. He was 72 and lived in Pikesville.

"His death is such a blow. Dan Jones was responsible for my entire academic career, as a writer and a teacher. I'm a contraption invented by Dan Jones," saud Clarinda Harriss, a poet who succeeded Dr. Jones and chaired the English department at Towson for nine years until stepping down in 2004.

"He was the most interesting man I've ever run into. There was nothing he couldn't do, and during his career he touched hundreds of thousands of lives," Ms. Harriss said. "He was so incredibly brilliant and witty."

Dr. Jones, the son of a dairy farmer and a homemaker, was born and raised in Ogden, Utah. He was the great-grandson of Capt. Dan Jones, who had been a bodyguard to Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"He was named for" his great-grandfather, said his wife of 49 years, the former Daisy Regina Johnson.

When Dr. Jones was 12, he ran the family dairy farm; during his teenage and early college years, he worked in the circus.

After graduating from Ben Lomond High School in 1956, Dr. Jones earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Utah in 1960. He worked on a cleaning crew to put himself through college. In 1973, he earned a doctorate in English literature, also from the University of Utah.

Dr. Jones was an English instructor at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., for six years before joining the faculty at what is now Towson University.

He rose through the ranks from professor to become chairman of the department of English, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, provost, vice president of learning and interim president after the resignation of Mark L. Perkins from 2002 until he retired in 2003.

Walt Fuchs, a philosophy professor at Towson, was a longtime friend and colleague.

"For about 40 years, Dan Jones had a role as a leader of the Towson academic community. He rose to his various offices by accident, as he always said, largely because he always had the trust of the faculty (always receiving the highest vote total for election to the Faculty Senate during its existence), as well as his superiors in the administration," Dr. Fuchs said.

"This trust he earned by competently trying to do what was best for the institution and its people, above all the students of Towson. His concern was that they have the opportunity to become educated rather than trained," he said.

Dr. Fuchs recalled that Dr. Jones was admired for his "vast knowledge."

"Because of his wide range of interests, he taught a variety of courses and was counted as an authority on love poetry, the Central European novel and, above all, writing," Dr. Fuchs said.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Jones, who was called "the writing guru of Towson University," was founder and coordinator of the school's master's degree program in professional writing.

"We want to help equip our graduates to work in the community, not just in a technical way, but also in a way that they can direct the needs of public writing," he told The Baltimore Sun in a 1988 interview. "The writing out there is terrible. Written communication today is putting blocks between people who are trying to communicate."

Dr. Jones added: "You have to write for your reader. Within every community there are certain patterns that have been adopted. There is a right way to talk to the readers of that community. As a writer, you need to know that. Otherwise you seem clumsy or inept."

One lesson that Dr. Jones stressed was that all writers could improve on their writing: "I picked up things that I hadn't thought about before. Sometimes you get stuck in your own style if you don't look outside of your own perspective. There are different ways of doing things."

"Dan was one of the best teachers Towson ever had, helped move the English department to where it is today, and was a wonderful provost," said Susanna Craine, former longtime Towson spokeswoman.

"He loved being able to bring out the ability in people to say in writing what they wanted to say and could get them to the next stage," recalled Ms. Craine. "He had loving patience and was a wonderfully evocative intellectual. He exuded thoughtfulness and was a paragon as an English professor."

Dr. Jones was known for his "self-deprecating manner" and for his "quick wit and … whimsical sense of humor," said Dr. Fuchs.

"One of his favorite metaphors for the university's exceptional value was that Towson University is 'a Mercedes at the cost of a Chevy,' " wrote university President Robert L. Caret in an e-mail announcing Dr. Jones' death to faculty and staff.

Dr. Jones was an accomplished gardener and enjoyed preparing gourmet meals, baking, collecting art and traveling. He had completed six unpublished novels.

"He was a marvel in the kitchen," said Ms. Craine.

"He performed in all of his university incarnations with intelligence, competence, humor and good will," said Dr. Fuchs.

A memorial service will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 27 in the Towson University Student Union.

Also surviving are two sons, Kirsch Marlow Jones of Baltimore and William Richard Jones of Catonsville; two sisters, Corinne Porter of Ogden and Mary Lou Cowley of Murray, Utah; and two grandsons.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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