Living the dash with Robert V. Jones

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  • The Jones family in June 2019. Surrounding their mom, Mary Ann Jones, are (from left): Barbara Lokar, Carol Jones, Robert Jones, Thomas Jones and John Jones

  • The Jones family gathered for Barbara’s graduation from Russell Sage College in 1978 (from left): Carol, Bob, Mary Ann, Thomas, Barbara and Robert. In front of Mary Ann is John Jones.

  • Robert Jones

  • More than 100 of Goshen firemen filed into Donovan Funeral Home in preparation for a special firemanic service. They were joined by firefighters from all over the county

  • Ladder trucks from Chester and Warwick stood by to erect a giant American flag above Route 207 eastbound as trucks from each of Goshen’s three fire companies escorted Past Chief Robert Jones’ casket to his final resting place at the Orange County Veterans Memorial Cemetery

  • A steady stream of mourners for two days of visitation waited patiently to pay their respects

Bob Jones made my day

Picture it, it’s a muggy day in 1978: I was a fresh-faced cub reporter less than a year after college graduation, working for WALL radio, back in the time when AM stations ruled and FM stations were an oddity, often only used to rebroadcast the programming on the AM stations. I had been assigned to cover the monthly meeting of the Orange County legislature. The meeting had just concluded and I was dutifully taping interviews with various legislators about items just discussed.
Still at it, I was interrupted by the chairman’s secretary with “you have a phone call from Al Larson.” Remember, no pagers, no cell phones, only pay phones and land lines. Al, the infamous news director at WALL AM, didn’t want to wait until I returned to the station. He took my interview clips over the phone and taped my report. Then he said, “Pine Island is on fire. Follow the smoke and interview the firemen on the scene.”
At the same time, Minority Leader Dave Pardy of Goshen started shouting that he needed to leave to get to the fire in the black dirt region. Both had heard the news on police scanners, Al in the newsroom and Dave in his car. I knew Dave Pardy pretty well because he was the father of a close friend in high school, so I ran after him and asked if I could follow him. I did and wound up in the area of black dirt near the Goshen Training Center, a youth detention center.
I knew that driving my car out there past the dirt road where all the other reporters were would be a huge mistake. Suddenly I spotted Bob Jones out in the field and started waving to him. Once he recognized me as one of his daughter’s friends from high school, he came back out to the road with some sort of an all-terrain vehicle. When he heard what I was there for, he literally picked me up from the edge of the road, put me on that vehicle and drove me out to the middle of the field where all the firemen were. The other reporters were still on the side of the road with no way to get any closer.
Bob didn’t treat me as Barbara’s school chum or as the daughter of his good friend, Charley Bynum. He treated me as a professional with a job to do and went way out of his way to help me do it. Until, that is, we both realized that I hadn’t stop to change after the legislative meeting and that my white sleeveless dress was covered with soot and black dirt. Then neither of us could stop laughing.
It was just another day of putting out fires for Bob Jones. To me, it was a big scoop for a 22-year-old and far more than what my boss had expected. More importantly, it began an adult friendship with a man who epitomized service to his community. It was an honor to be your friend Bob Jones. Rest easy and have fun making a ruckus with the other Goshen heroes who have gone before you to their final call.
By Wendy Bynum-Wade

By Wendy Bynum-Wade

Goshen lost one of its best friends earlier this month. Robert V. Jones, 87, passed away in his sleep on Thursday, June 6.

Hundreds turned out over the two-day viewing, the funeral service at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, and many lined the streets of Bob’s beloved Goshen, waiting to see the procession taking him from his funeral to his final resting place at the Orange County Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Robert’s obituary paid tribute to his involvement in the community and as a life-long firefighter. It gave vital statistics, like the day of his birth and the date of his death; March 10, 1932-June 6, 2019. But what it couldn’t fully detail was how much life Bob packed into that little dash between those dates.

Many individuals in the Goshen community can point to a list of organizations that they’re involved with, but few can say they did it with as much gusto as Robert Jones.

The man

Robert was a lifelong resident of Orange County. He was born in the southern end of the county, one of 16 children. After high school he entered the service, beginning his commitment to serving others. Following his stint in the U.S. Army from 1952-54, he began working for the NYS Thruway Authority, his work home for the next 32 years, retiring as supervisor. Not one to sit still, Bob took on a part-time position with Donovan Funeral Home. For over 30 years, Bob was one of the friendly faces everyone recognized and found comfort from as they entered the building to pay respects as family or friend of the deceased. On the home front, Bob and his young wife, Mary Ann, moved their growing family to Goshen in the late '50s. That’s also when he joined the Dikeman E&H Fire Company, where he remained a very active member until his death. June 3 marked his 60th year as a Dikeman. Bob served in every position within the company, including chief of the entire department, overseeing Goshen’s three different fire companies.

Bob is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, and their five children, Barbara, Carol, Robert, Thomas, and John, their spouses, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, along with his sister, Edith Stevens.

For many, filling that “dash” with 22 years on the Goshen Village Board of Trustees, along with his employment and involvement in a long list of service organizations would be enough. As those who knew him well paid tribute to their friend last week, it wasn’t nearly enough for Bob Jones.

The myth

Robert V. Jones, aka Bobby or Jonesy, was a familiar presence. His mornings were predictable. He could almost always be found starting his day at Elsie’s in the heart of the village. It was always more than breakfast; Bob was renowned as a storyteller and a jokester. He loved nothing better than starting his day with other locals who frequented the café, perched on the stools at the long counter. Another ritual: while he was a village trustee, his day also included visits to the village DPW. Bob was the board’s liaison to the DPW for his entire tenure. According to police Chief James Watt, “Bob seemed to be everywhere. His expertise in so many areas was invaluable to every project he touched.” Most of all, Watt continued, “He was my friend ,and I will miss him.”

The current mayor of Goshen and retired village DPW superintendent, Mike Nuzzolese, echoed those sentiments: “Bob Jones recruited me to join the village DPW back in the '70s. I had been working at the Town of Goshen DPW, but Bob was persuasive. When Bob was first elected as a trustee, the DPW was seriously underequipped. Within two years he was able to use his expertise and connections with the NYS Thruway to help us upgrade our equipment and created a replacement and maintenance schedule. Bob was a great teacher, mentor, and an even better friend.”

Another common reference, as the news of his death spread within the community, was that Bob was a tough guy when he needed to be but was also the most compassionate person you’d ever meet. Consensus among the mourners was that with Bob, you always knew where you stood.

His word was his bond. In today’s world, that isn’t all that common. But as Mike Nuzzolese noted, “If he shook your hand, it was golden. You knew that whatever he had just agreed to would be done and done well.”

A past chief of the Goshen Fire Department, Elmer Budd, knew Bob well. On June 3, 1959, they both joined the Dikeman’s. Over that 60-year span, Elmer and Bob became like brothers, so it was only natural that the family asked him to deliver the eulogy. In his remarks, Budd referred to his list of accomplishments at work and in the community. But the title Elmer thought was Bob’s most deserving was that of “friend.”

Elmer described Bob as “a man of many talents and accomplishments but wasn’t the kind of person who sought out praise. He was also the first to say 'How are you?' and mean it. When it was his turn in the conversation, he didn’t brag about himself, but he did sing the praises of his large family at every opportunity. He was so proud of them all.”

In his eulogy, Budd referred to Bob’s unique ability to laugh at himself.

“Bob treated everyone with respect," he said. "If he disagreed with your opinion, he would discuss and get over it. He never let a disagreement disrupt a friendship. Bob knew how to be a friend.”

The legend

Bob was very serious about every job he undertook, big or small, but then he also knew how to have fun. Bob’s parties before fire parades were quite legendary. His children recalled many of these events both as kids and then, later, as adults. Some involved humorous tales about other prominent Goshen residents. Most of those tales are best to remain as Goshen “lore,” circulated at places like Elsie’s.

Bob not only left many Goshenites with heavy hearts with his passing, his greatest legacy if you were to ask him, would undoubtedly be his family.

When asked what it was like to “share” their dad with the greater community, they were quick to comment that they didn’t feel like they’d shared him at all, the man they knew taught them that living in a community means being involved and giving back to that community.

“Dad didn’t tell us to get involved, he showed us by example” said oldest son, Rob, who just celebrated 40 years of membership with the Dikemans. First-born Barbara added, “That’s the way it was when were growing up. Everyone volunteered and joined organizations to help others. The firemen and the veterans became like extended family.”

One of the best family stories that grew to legendary proportions was the one about the “chimney fires” that took place in the family’s home. Imagine being an officer in the fire department and having to respond to your own house! Turns out that on one occasion when his youngest child, John, was home sick from school. Mary Ann decided she wanted to protect the rest of the family from exposure, so she put his tissues in the wood-burning stove. Something went wrong and the house filled with smoke. The chimney was on fire. Bob came running out and used his house phone to call it in to the fire department. That was part of the punchline: back in the day, the officers had red fire phones at home so that they could get a heads-up on fire calls. When the red phone rang — remember, Bob had just dialed the number — Bob reflexively answered the fire department phone and asked the caller where the fire was. He instantly realized he’d just answered his own call!

That could have been the end of it, but later in the year at the fire department’s float parade, the scene was recreated. A float carried a small house with smoke coming out of the chimney. According to all five of his children, “Dad loved a good joke.”

Bob didn’t like to brag about himself. Fortunately, the family was able to share many occasions in recent years when the community at large bragged for him. Bob was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Goshen Chamber of Commerce, named Grand Marshal of the Goshen Memorial Day Parade, and wore many sashes as a dignitary in many, many fire parades.

Robert V. Jones, your family and your community loved you, respected you, and will miss you. Goshen thanks you for filling your “dash” with 87 years of service to our community.

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