Edwin L. Jones, Jr.

Edwin L. Jones, Jr.Graduation Year: 1948

Degree at Duke:
Bachelor of Science

Major/Program:
Civil Engineering

Career Highlights:

  • President, J.A. Jones Construction Company

Edwin L. Jones, Jr. has had a remarkable professional career while also giving incalculable amounts of time and energy in service to his community and alma mater. His generosity stems from a family tradition of charitable contributions, not just of wealth, but of leadership, vision, and philanthropy as well.

Edwin Jones Jr., a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, entered Duke as an undergraduate in 1940 but left shortly thereafter to enlist in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. While in the service, he was commissioned a first lieutenant in Japan and met and married Lucille Finch. He returned to Duke to earn his B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1948 and immediately joined the J.A. Jones Construction Company, founded by his grandfather in 1890.

The J.A. Jones Construction Company, based in Charlotte and now one of the largest of its kind in the United States, took Jones on as a construction engineer. During the next forty years, the leadership of the company changed hands several times, but a Jones always remained in control. Grandfather James Addison Jones remained chairman of the company until his death in 1950, while Edwin Sr. ran the company. In 1951 Edwin Jr. took over active management of contracts at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and subsequently served as company secretary, vice president and finally president in 1961. During this time, Edwin Sr. stayed on as chairman until his death in 1971.

The company was sold in 1978 for $78 million to Phillipp Holzmann AG, a large West German construction company. The move gave the company more financial flexibility, apparent in the company’s worldwide presence. Projects within the United States have included the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Tampa Stadium in Florida, and the recent renovation of the U.S. Capitol, while overseas work has been completed in Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Canada, Greenland, Libya, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and many other countries.

Edwin Jones, Jr. became president and chairman of the Jones Group Inc. in 1984, when it was organized as a holding company of the J.A. Jones Construction Company and nine other subsidiaries. He retired as chairman of the Jones Group Inc. in 1986, turning leadership over to Johnnie Jones, his first cousin.

Jones has had a very demanding career managing such a prosperous company, yet he has not let his success overshadow his commitment to the community. He is a man who gives his time, leadership, experience and financial support. Active in civic affairs, he led the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce’s Urban Redevelopment Committee, the Central Charlotte Association, and the YMCA expansion fund drive. He has helped to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation, the Presbyterian Hospital Foundation, and Queens College. He has served as a director of the Mint Museum of Art, First Union Corporation, First Union National Bank, William L. Crow Construction Company, Charles H. Tompkins Company, United Community Service, and the Construction Education Foundation of North Carolina.

At Duke, Jones Jr. has been an integral part of the development of the university. As a Duke trustee from 1970 to 1983, Jones was chairman of the Institutional Advancement Committee and the Trustee Advancement Committee, a member of the Executive and Steering Committees, and chairman of the $136 million Epoch Campaign. He served as President of the Engineering and General Alumni Associations, and is currently a trustee emeritus of Duke University and a member of the Board of Visitors. Former President Terry Sanford described Jones’ service to the university as a direct reflection of two of his most outstanding traits:

“The ability to lead and the ability to achieve success. He has the uncanny ability to turn problems into opportunities. His leadership has been a major factor in Duke’s attainment of the high national stature it presently enjoys."

Members of the Jones family have been students at Duke for three generations. Edwin Jones, Sr. and his future wife, Annabel Lambeth, graduated in 1912 from Trinity College. Edwin Jr., like his grandfather before him, entrusted the education of his children to Duke. Three of the Jones’ five children attended Duke, two of whom went on to graduate from Duke Medical School.

The Jones family and J.A. Jones Construction Company have a long history of contribution to charities and schools, and Duke has certainly felt the impact of the family’s generosity. The company regularly donates five percent of its earnings before taxes to charities. Established in 1951, the J.A. Jones Chair of Engineering funds undergraduate scholarships, the J.A. Jones professorship, and discretionary funds for the dean of engineering. This year, eighteen Jones scholars were chosen by Associate Dean Marion Shepard on the basis of merit and financial need. The largest award was $4,000. Dean Earl Dowell, holder of the J.A. Jones Professorship, described the Jones family as “a historical record for where we are today. Edwin Jones, Jr.’s support, both as a leader and benefactor, is tremendously important; we wouldn’t be where we are without it."

The Jones family and the J.A. Jones Construction Company also made a large contribution toward the building of the Edwin L. Jones Cancer Research Building. Leadership in facilities, research, and teaching has been further strengthened by the establishment of the Edwin L. Jones, Jr. and Lucille Finch Jones Cancer Research Chair. The $1 million professorship for cancer research was given by Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their five children and is currently held by Dr. William W. Shingleton, Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Asked what he remembers about his years at Duke, Jones fondly recalls when “all the engineers lived in Southgate dormitory. There was a great feeling of camaraderie.” And although things have changed somewhat at Duke, he continually reaffirms his commitment to what is still “a great university."

The Lucille Finch and Edwin L. Jones, Jr. Endowed Equipment Fund, established in 1984, supports undergraduate lab equipment. Established in 1987, the Edwin L. and Lucille Finch Jones Fund provides grants and scholarships to North Carolina students in both undergraduate and graduate engineering, as well as funding for lab equipment. The family and the J.A. Jones Construction Company have also supported the construction of the Bryan Center and the Fuqua School of Business, and have contributed to the Athletic Scholarship Fund. Jones is a member of the Washington Duke Club.

In talking with Jones, one finds that he is very down to earth. He comments on his philanthropy: “I was taught to believe you don’t give just because the Lord blessed you. It just turned out that I was fortunate. I was a grown man before I found out everyone didn’t follow that philosophy." Along with the endowments he has given, Jones looks for ways to encourage others to contribute. “One hope and dream I have is that those who have benefitted from scholarships will try themselves to help others. Perhaps the J.A. Jones or A.B. Duke scholars could band together to create a fund.”

Edwin Jones, Jr. represents a man of distinguished ideals and accomplishments. His family’s long term commitment to the university has touched almost every facet of university development and advancement. Jones is an alumnus whose personal life, professional achievements, community service, and service to Duke represent the goals of the School of Engineering of Duke University.

Originally published in DukEngineer, Fall 1988. Written by Eileen Bryn, a sophomore in electrical engineering.