Sources of Joy: Jimmie Jones

Of the many things that can be said about the frenetic, fantastic, fabulous Jimmie Jones, the one everyone who knows him can agree on is that he is truly unforgettable.

For many reasons.

For starters, there is the incessant coffee consumption that fuels his seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy.

There are the satirical cartoons that everyone at Facing History secretly wanted to be in (Everyone with the possible exception of senior staff, that is.).

The trademark large round glasses.

The lean frame honed by years and years of jogging.

The endless drive to follow up with every single teacher, first in Eastern, then Western Massachusetts, then every law enforcement official in the United States and the U.S./Mexico border, and, most recently, in China.

The ever-so-close physical space when he’s engaged in his standard animated and boisterous conversation.

The blend of intimacy and the feeling that he’s always on the verge of, as he told me to do many times with teachers, about to “take it away.”

The insistence on using themes in his work with teachers from Facing History and his ever expanding treasure trove of pirated and personally-created resources.

Of all these memorably quirky traits, though, at the very top of the list for me is his creative generosity.

In the close to 20 years I’ve known him, Jimmie has pushed himself to create more mementoes for other people than anyone I’ve ever met.

When I first came to Facing History in the fall of 1997, there was a tape from Jimmie on my desk.

Combining his commentary with music, sage advice with humor, the tape left me gasping for breath because I was laughing so hard.  I played it a number of times during the three years I worked there.

I would replay the tape not like every month, but at intervals just long enough that I’d be surprised by the twists and turns he had woven into the 10-minute recording.

A few weeks later, Jimmie drew a cartoon of me looking wistfully at my Newton teachers’ contract taking wings and flying away while I held a lengthy list of schools to which I was assigned for Facing History in my right hand.

I loved it.

Jimmie’s mementoes were not just ones he had made.

Some of my favorite memories of working at Facing History were driving along the Mass Turnpike in the early mornings with him-he’d leave as early as 5:00 a.m. if that’s when you said you’d be ready-and hearing him tell stories about his dad, an incurable subscriber to questionably relevant magazines and inveterate handyman, about his service in Vietnam, about property values in Texas and parking spaces in Brookline, and, always, always about how to handle myself and work most effectively with teachers.

“I’m just telling you because I’ve left too many meetings with my tail between my legs and I don’t want it to happen to you, Jeff,” he’d declare as he urged me to tell teachers that I worked with teachers who were rated one, two or three, and which one did they want to be.

Although I told him that that was not my style, I did draw on it one time when a hostile administrator on the Western Masschusetts/Vermont border had been badgering me for most of our half-hour conversation.

Finally, I had had enough.

“I work with three kind of schools,” I said, following his instruction by looking her directly in the eye and reciting Jimmie’s speech verbatim before asking simply, “Which do you want to be?”

I didn’t leave with any new Facing History business that day, but I didn’t have my tail between my legs, either.

Jimmie’s counsel pushed me to think on a strategic level, moving beyond working willy-nilly with individual teachers to developing a three- to five-year plan for schools and for districts. He helped me develop instincts for who had what we jokingly used to call, the ‘jugo,’ the juice, the passion and the ability to help spread Facing History materials far and wide throughout their schools.

Jimmie helped give me the tools to fend for myself and grow in my newly chosen line of work, one that built on, but was also substantially different from, what I had done before.

Jimmie’s generosity has literally stretched around the world.

It was a standing joke among Boston program staff that half of any summer institute would stand up and say, “I’m here because Jimmie Jones brought a video to my class.”

Last summer, I received a call from Will, a young man from China who Jimmie had met during one of his many trips there.

The same reverential glow came over Will as he described drinking tea with, and receiving advice from, Jimmie, as the teachers from Everett and Revere and Springfield, Massachusetts did when they stood to announce their reason for giving up a week of their summer to learn about some of humanity’s worst atrocities.

In short, he made everyone feel special and appreciated and seen.

And, in a life changing development for me, one of those people later became my wife.

Dunreith was teaching at Wilbraham and Monson Academy when Jimmie saw that she had plenty of jugo and enlisted her to be the point person in eventually bringing Facing History to grades 6 through 12 in the Western Massachusetts boarding school.

In the summer of 1997, as part of that work, she attended a follow up seminar at Facing History’s Brookline office.

So did I.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, in a development I still have trouble believing, Jimmie is retiring.

I’ve still got to see it to completely believe it, and reports say that as of July 1, he’ll no longer be working full time for Facing History.

I’ll wait until then to learn the truth, but will not have to wait at all to declare my gratitude, appreciation and love for the many meaningful experiences Jimmie has given to me and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people throughout our planet.


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