Farewell, Johnny

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

By 4 o’clock Thursday afternoon the sidewalk at the corner of Selma Avenue and Church Street was lined with people waiting to enter the Methodist Church Hospitality Center where retiring Dallas County Probate Judge Johnny Jones was saying goodbye after 30 years of service to the people of Selma, Dallas County and the State of Alabama.

Rays of the afternoon sunlight shone on white heads and gray, touched the faces of children and teenagers, young adults and very old ones. Among those waiting were lawyers and bankers, politicians and elected officials, housewives, career women, everyday folks, grandmothers and mothers – representing a microcosm of those whom Jones had served unstintingly and unswervingly during all his time in office.

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Entering with their hands, sometimes their arms outstretched, most of the more than 500 who came were greeted personally by “The Judge” as he called their name, smiled, hugged, clasped hands and patted shoulders. And often, he spoke of an event or an incident in the long years of their acquaintance.

Of laughter there was lots, of tears more than a few, and throughout the afternoon the warm, caring personality that is the persona of Johnny Jones held at the bay the sadness that is certain to come as he leaves his courthouse office Tuesday.

Some of those who came were lifelong friends, remembering the young Johnny Jones, son of

“Big Johnny” Jones of Cloverleaf Creamery, who sometimes delivered milk for his Dad. Perhaps they had attended Auburn University with Johnny or used his service as Health Department Inspector. Some of them certainly were familiar with his Air Force service and his career in the National Guard.

Lots of them knew pretty Betty Hughey of Huntsville, whom he met at Auburn, married and brought to Selma to live.

Some were friends of his three pretty daughters, look-alikes of their mother: Karen Morris, Vaughan Regional Health Associate; Susan Wood, Dallas County School System Enrichment Coordinator; and Lori Mayes, Media Specialist, of Newnon, Georgia.

After greeting Johnny Jones, after pausing at the inviting refreshment tables, they watched the slide show of the days of his life, running continually at one side of the large room, then moved to a long table where seven scrapbooks were filled with photographs of his professional career and letters from people associated with both.

Meanwhile, the long lines still stretched outside the filled room. Inside, the Judge spoke briefly and sentimentally until his voice choked with tears and his son-in-law Johnny Morris took the floor to relate a humorous episode or so in their lives.

However, it is Jones’ service to Dallas County that will be the focal point on his last day in the Probate office. No small part of that service has been his involvement in Team Selma, a group of residents who worked together in a collective effort to recruit industry.

“The pulse beat of any community depends upon its ability to attract industry and create jobs,” he once said. “Too many industrial prospects come here with a false image of Selma, not with knowledge of the real community. I cannot recall working with any prospect that left without praising the beauty, the history and above all, the warm and friendly people they encountered.”

Although he is leaving office, Jones says of Selma’s future “The sun is going to come up tomorrow. I have seen how people of all races are pulling together to ensure that future. It makes me feel good that we have people who are able to take up the slack if and when there is any.”

And again, he repeats his philosophy in his public and his daily life: “I believe in treating everybody the way you want to be treated. If you do that, you’ll win – without laws, court systems and jail.”

When asked about his personal plans for the future, he responds with his winning smile, saying, “Me? I’m going to hunt some and fish some and enjoy my family and friends, lots. And I will be here to help when I am needed.”