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Obituary

Richard Kearney Jones, 1928-2020

Richard (Dick) Kearney Jones – geologist, U.S. Army combat veteran, perfect father – born in 1928 in Lawrence, KS, died on May 27, 2020, in Tucson. His body simply gave out after almost 92 years.

Dick loved mountains, books, science, fast cars, silly jokes, his wife, and his family. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star during the Korean War. He outlived his siblings and most of his friends. Few people remain who know his story. He had quite a ride.

Dick was the third of four children born to geologist and WW I pilot Ogden Sherman Jones and Hazel Lucile Smith. Dick's paternal grandfather, Dr. George Washington Jones, delivered him in the hospital he operated on the top floor of the family home at 1201 Ohio Street/

The family moved to Topeka when Dick was in preschool. His walk home from kindergarten would take him past the mansion of his father's friend, Gov. Alf Landon, later a presidential candidate. Dick would slip into the kitchen, usually unnoticed, and help himself to cookies. Thus began a lifelong passion for baked goods. One day he returned from school with a kitten, "Martha,'' who lived 21 years. Dick loved cats.

He was an average student, a daydreamer and a loveable, happy, kind-hearted jokester incapable of meanness. He adored older brother Ogden – the civic minded, sweet, over-achieving West Point graduate; beautiful older sister and talented artist, Alison; and baby brother, Mike.

The Depression didn't directly affect the Joneses but was all around them. Dick remembered men coming to the back door seeking work and food. His mother gave them chores, cooked for them, and let them sleep in the carriage house. One year, his parents withheld Christmas toys because so many were doing without.

He was naughty. As a teenager, he built a giant slingshot from surgical tubing to launch small glass bottles of paint at a house about a half-mile away. The homeowner never knew where the colorful splotches on his house originated.

Dick majored in geology at the University of Kansas. He took ice skates to KU so he could skate on the pond next to the Student Union between classes. He enrolled in ROTC. After graduation, the army sent him to Korea as an infantryman. "PTSD'' was not yet in the lexicon, but the war's brutality and misery would affect him for the rest of his life.

Dick thought he wanted a military career, but soon after deployment he realized that would be a problem. He hated killing. A 1st lieutenant and company commander, he watched helplessly as the Korean winter's bone-chilling cold drove some of his men to suicide. When he called to the rear to have bodies removed, he was told, "It's cold. They'll keep." He remembered poorly equipped Chinese soldiers surrendering to avoid freezing and starving to death. While taking his first hot shower after six weeks in a foxhole, Dick wished he could just stop killing. He was haunted by the faces of Chinese soldiers he killed and could not forget. Shortly after his father died suddenly back home, Dick poked his head out of a foxhole and he heard his father's voice say, "Look out, Dick." As he ducked, a volley of gunfire flew over his head. While Dick was on R&R in Tokyo, Gen. Douglas MacArthur saw him crossing a street and grilled him for 15 minutes about conditions at the front.

His first job as a geologist involved mapping Egypt's western desert for Sahara Oil Company (part of Continental Oil Company or Conoco). It was a wonderful time, and the young American geologists he met on the plane to Cairo became lifelong friends. They spent weeks at a time in the desert, living in camps, driving power wagons, flying helicopters, and mapping the geology. At the Cairo home office, Dick fell in love with the company president's French-speaking, 19-year old secretary, Denise Soria. Despite the language barrier, he proposed on their second date, horrifying both families, who believed their religious and cultural differences insurmountable.

When Denise's father, who'd never met an American before, vetoed the marriage, Dick said, "I'm sorry to hear you say that, because I love her and intend to marry her." Having charmed the family, he did, on Dec. 21, 1955 - the longest night of the year, he'd remind the three kids that he and Denise produced in three years.

Forty years later, while waiting for Denise to get ready to go out one evening, an impatient daughter once asked, "Doesn't it drive you crazy that she always keeps you waiting?" Dick responded, "She's always worth it."

Dick enjoyed a successful career as a petroleum geologist in southern Louisiana, where his colleagues found him likeable and easy to work with. Money never motivated him; he was a family man. A voracious reader, he passed his love of books to his kids. He read to them, and later had them read to him. His bedtime stories were epic, original, multi-night sagas. In one, the kids shrank small enough to enter a magical world inside the family cuckoo clock, guided by the psychotic cuckoo. Dick was not perfect, but he was a perfect father. He said, "I love you" often, in a time when men didn't often do that. When his son, Richard, an editor in New York, came out as gay, Dick responded, "I love you always."

Daughters Alison and Karen moved Dick and Denise from their beloved Louisiana to Alison's Tucson home when they could no longer live independently. Dick enjoyed riding his bike, swimming, and attending Handmaker's Adventure Bus excursions. Four years later, they moved to Handmaker. As he declined, Dick grew frustrated — and thinner than his family thought possible. But his sweet nature remained.

In addition to wife Denise, daughters Alison (Gerry Lemire) of Tucson, AZ, and Karen, of Falls Church, VA, many nieces and nephews survive. Most of his life was very good. Some parts were difficult. A short period was terrible. His life was unique, worth sharing and remembering. We will miss him.

A memorial service will be held when social distancing requirements loosen. Donations can be made to Handmaker's Adventure Bus program, which made such a wonderful difference in Dick's last years.

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