Dr. Howard Jones explains the in vitro fertilization process during a news conference in 1981. (Steve Helber/AP)

Howard Jones, who pioneered in vitro fertilization in the United States at his medical clinic in Virginia, died July 31 at a hospital in Norfolk. He was 104.

The cause was respiratory failure, the Eastern Virginia Medical School said in a statement.

The work of Dr. Jones and his late wife, Georgeanna Jones, at EVMS led to the nation’s first child born as a result of in vitro fertilization in 1981. Since then, more than 5 million births have stemmed from in vitro fertilization around the world.

The Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine at EVMS is named in honor of the Joneses. For several years, families who had children with the institute’s help were invited to join the couple at Mother’s Day celebrations. Photos from the events show the Joneses surrounded by hundreds of families. Since the institute’s creation, about 4,000 babies have been born through in vitro fertilization with the clinic’s assistance.

“The IVF success was an incredible accomplishment, not just for him personally but for our institution and for the profession of medicine,” Richard Homan, president and provost of EVMS and dean of the School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Dr. Howard Jones, right, and his wife, Dr. Georgeanna Jones, left, in 1998. They pioneered in vitro fertilization in the United States in the 1980s. (Bill Tiernan/AP)

Dr. Jones continued to keep office hours at the institute even after he turned 100. He wrote 12 books, including a memoir about in vitro fertilization that was published last fall, “In Vitro Fertilization Comes to America: Memoir of a Medical Breakthrough.”

Although in vitro fertilization is common today, it was initially met with resistance from some who were concerned about the ethics of “test tube” babies. EVMS notes that the Vatican reached out to the Joneses to help advise Pope John Paul II about in vitro fertilization after the 1981 birth of the U.S.’s first IVF baby, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, who is now a mother. In November 1982, the cover of Life magazine was dedicated to the “test-tube baby boom.”

In 1984, Dr. Jones helped create an ethics committee under the American Fertility Society, which is now the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Howard Wilbur Jones Jr. was born Dec. 30, 1910, in Baltimore. As a child, he went on house calls with his father, who was a physician.

Dr. Jones graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1931 and from Johns Hopkins University medical school in 1935.

He worked at John Hopkins University for three decades and was the physician who treated Henrietta Lacks for cancer at Johns Hopkins. Cell samples from a biopsy of Lacks’s tumor became known as “HeLa” cells and have been used for research purposes for decades.

Dr. Jones’s role in the controversial Lacks case is recounted in the 2010 book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca ­Skloot.

Dr. Jones left Johns Hopkins after reaching the mandatory retirement age. In 1978, he joined Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, five years after the school opened.

He arrived in Norfolk the same day the world’s first baby was born through in vitro fertilization in England. In his early years at EVMS, he developed a technique to induce the development of multiple eggs in a woman, which was a major breakthrough.

His wife of 64 years died in 2005.

Survivors include three children, Howard Wilbur Jones III, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, and Lawrence Massey Jones and Georgeanna Jones Klingensmith, both of Denver; and seven grandchildren.