Inspiring students to do amazing things. That’s the legacy of a great teacher. Professor David Jones, whose life was cut tragically short last week, was a great teacher. The impression he left on those he worked with here at Public Health Post, and even on those who never worked directly with our founding editor, lives on.
Themes of kindness, authenticity, compassion and brilliance resonate in the outpouring of responses to the beloved professor’s death. And what better way to honor a great writer than to ask those he taught to share their memories, in writing, of course.
Jones founded Public Health Post 2016, joined by three fellows and managing editor Melissa Davenport.
“The early days of PHP were very much a startup mentality,” Davenport writes. “Lots of creative discussion, experimenting to see what worked and what didn’t, being nimble in our approach, brainstorming with the team. As editor-in-chief, David embraced that approach. He was a team builder. He shared his home with us for the annual pot luck holiday party. No matter how busy the agenda was, David started every weekly meeting with ‘How’s everybody doing?’ and we’d take a moment go around the table and talk together. That was the PHP culture, and it began with David.”
Jonathan Gang, a part of the first class of fellows and a student at the BU College of Communication at the time, recalls Jones teaching him public health as a discipline during the fellowship.
“Even though I never took a class with David Jones – even though I never even studied public health academically – I still think of him as one of my favorite teachers,” Gang recalled. “But, as has been said over and over again over the past several weeks, David was, among so many other things, a patient, kind, and giving teacher.”
Gang, now a science writer at a nonprofit biotech company researching treatments for ALS, bonded with Jones over outside-of-the-classroom interests, in their case – Phish.
“We often said we should make it to a Phish show together in the years after my fellowship, and it’s one of my big regrets now that it never worked out. But I’ll be thinking of him and what he meant to me at every one I attend from now on.”
For Nick Diamond, that bond was French.
“During my interviews for the fellowship, we bonded over our connection to the francophone world and Michigan, sharing a love of Québec and Ann Arbor,” Diamond recalls. “I left his office feeling warmed by his friendliness and excited about his ideas for PHP.”
Diamond was a part of that first class of PHP fellows, and later became PHP’s second managing editor. Diamond credits Jones for supporting an HIV project in Senegal that later ran in PHP, and sparked his career in communications.
“I don’t think I would have found myself in a career that I love without David’s mentorship, guidance, and sharp editorial pen,” Diamond wrote. “David created such a welcoming environment for the team, asking us to share good news in editorial meetings each week, inviting us to his home for dinners with his family, and planning socials at museums and breweries in Boston. David led a small but mighty team to start a publication unlike any other in the country, and we are all proud of his vision.”
Madeline Bishop, now working in health communication at the University of New Hampshire, joined PHP as a part of its second class of fellows shortly after the November 2016 elections. Looking back, she writes of her appreciation of Jones’ “grounding and motivating” outlook.
“Our PHP team would get sidetracked with spirited conversations about social justice, law, politics, maps and data (David loved a good Databyte), solutions to society’s toughest challenges, and sometimes, of course, music. He would join the verging-on-off-topic debates with gusto, unending wisdom, and support. And best of all, we laughed–a lot. I am deeply grateful for David’s joy amidst the difficulty of grad school, personal challenges, and societal chaos. It was and remains a gift, one that I hope we can all try to carry on through even the hardest moments.”
Maggie Thomas, now an assistant professor of social work at UCLA, was also in the first group of PHP fellows. She was inspired to apply after first meeting Jones as a professor in a health policy seminar she took as a PhD student.
“In our first class, David showed us an image of a painting and spent time talking with us about the piece, our responses, our perceptions, and how we were interpreting it, helping us bring a much more expansive perspective to our semester thinking about health policy. As I got to know David over the past five years, as a mentor at Public Health Post and as a colleague and friend, that untypical experience in our classroom stands out as an entirely typical approach to teaching, thinking, and engaging with other people from David.”
Knowing David Jones as a colleague and friend meant knowing his family as well – his wife, Sarah, and their three children.
“David was an engaging professor, a brilliant scholar, a generous mentor, and a true friend,” Thomas remembers. “It was evident to me from the earliest I knew David that he cared deeply about his work, the world he lived in, and the people he encountered, and gave everything he did his full attention and energy. It was also always clear, in the simplest and most authentic way, that his love for Sarah, Olivia, Anne, and Thomas, ran through all of his other work and shaped his life.”
Professor David Jones’ life will be celebrated today during a virtual and on campus memorial service.
This post was compiled and edited by Teresa Wood Kett, Jennifer Beard and Michael Stein. The best parts of it were written by the Public Health Post fellows who shared their memories.
Photo from the PHP archives, pictured left to right are: Melissa Davenport, Nick Diamond, David Jones, Maggie Thomas and Jonathan Gang