In his eight years as headmaster of Georgetown Preparatory School, Jeffrey L. Jones served as an example of moral leadership to the young men enrolled at the country’s oldest Jesuit school, which dates to 1789. Whether it was as a fierce-but-fair competitor on the basketball court or as an administrator who saw hidden potential in faculty and staff, Jones was known as a charismatic and endearing presence on the North Bethesda campus.
Jones, who resigned as headmaster in May, died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to Georgetown Prep officials. He had suffered from cardiac ailments and had a mechanical heart installed earlier this year as he awaited a heart transplant. He was 61.
Jones joined the faculty at Georgetown Prep in 1997, as director of facilities, and within a year was named dean of students. He rose quickly in the school’s administrative ranks to serve first as assistant headmaster before being named in 2008 as head of school, overseeing daily operations on the grounds as well as the academic curriculum.
Jones was responsible for taking Prep’s “academic profile to new heights while hiring many outstanding faculty members. He stood as a role model for our student body, developing lasting personal relationships with hundreds of our young men over the years,” the school said in a statement.
In October, Jones received the school’s highest honor, the Insignis Medal, from the Rev. Scott R. Pilarz, Georgetown Prep’s president.
“Insignis is the Latin word for ‘exceptional,’ and an entirely apt descriptor of Jeff,” Pilarz said in a statement. “Jeff exemplified in extraordinary ways Georgetown Preparatory School’s highest ideals and aspirations.”
Gregory Dyson, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, described Jones as “truly a man for others.”
“From the classroom to the ball fields and in the arts, his support and mentorship was ever present,” Dyson said.
Benjamin Williams, an English teacher who knew Jones for two decades, said that he had “a remarkable charisma” and a “remarkable ability to connect with people.”
“He really engendered a strong sense of community,” Williams said. “They always knew that Jeff cared about them and that he loved them.”
His rise from facilities to the headmaster’s office also was unusual, Williams said. But a longtime friend, George Wolfe, said that such a rapid rise was typical for Jones.
Wolfe recalled that Jones once bought an American Motors Rambler Rogue for $100. The vehicle had just three normal-size tires, was painted primer black, and its previous owner had decorated one side with fluorescent clouds. Wolfe said that Jones got a new paint job, fixed the tire and used the profits to buy another car, a Datsun Bluebird.
Within six months, Wolfe said, he was driving a BMW.
A graduate of Chaminade University in Hawaii, Jones began his career in Catholic education at Maryknoll High School in Honolulu as a history teacher and later as vice principal.
Wolfe said that Jones also was a stellar tennis and racquetball player. Wolfe said that one of his bosses, a Boston native, once complained about the lacking number of quality racquetball players in Hawaii.
“He was a big-time racquetball player, so he said,” Wolfe said, noting that the boss fretted that his opponents were giving 100 percent and he was beating them easily. “So I say to him: ‘Well you know, I got a friend who plays racquetball.’ He said: ‘He better be good because these people in Hawaii can’t play.’”
The day of their game came and went, and Wolfe noticed that his boss was avoiding him.
“So I call Jeff: ‘What happened?’ ” Wolfe said. “And he said: ‘You ask him.’ ”
Wolfe’s boss told him Jones demolished him, that he couldn’t even hit the ball.
Wolfe said that he first met Jones when they were in college in Hawaii during a pick-up basketball game. Wolfe, whom Jones later recruited to Georgetown Prep and currently serves as supervisor of security and custodial services, said that he reluctantly allowed the newcomer onto his team.
“He hit his first six shots, so we ran the floor for about three games,” Wolfe said. “We’ve been friends ever since.”
Wolfe said that it’s a lesson he passes on to the students, about “how great sports can be in associations you make and the people you meet.”