Former Times leader Dave Jones dies at 91

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Veteran newspaper executive Dave Jones, who worked as a consultant to The Wilson Times for 15 years, died Saturday at age 91.

Jones served as a mentor to Times Chairman and CEO Morgan Dickerman in the 1990s and early 2000s after retiring from the News & Observer as associate publisher, capping a 42-year career at the Raleigh newspaper.

“My mother said Dave Jones would make a good mentor, a good person to be a sounding board,” Dickerman said. After approaching the News & Observer’s then-publisher, Frank Daniels Jr., Dickerman met with Jones and the pair began working together.

“I would say his biggest accomplishments were guiding me, improving the newspaper and starting the phone book,” Dickerman said.

Jones oversaw the Times’ book publishing projects, including “Cyclone Country” by Russell Rawlings in 2000, “Hollywood Adventures” by Gregory Walcott in 2003 and “Whatever Happened to the Milkman?” in 2001 and “The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market” in 2007, both by Keith Barnes.

While his leadership role here was a post-retirement second career, Jones also cut his teeth in newspapering at The Wilson Daily Times. Following a stint as editor of The Enfield Progress, Jones was hired at the Times in 1949 as an advertising salesman under publisher H.D. Brauff, who had purchased the newspaper from founder John D. Gold’s family and ran the business before Gold’s daughter, Elizabeth Gold Swindell, bought the paper in 1956.

Dickerman said Jones was a man in a hurry — he was turned down for the advertising manager job in Wilson due to his youth and, after helping to train the candidate who was hired, went to work at age 23 for the News & Observer, where he began rising through the ranks.

Jones helped launch The Mini Page, a weekly children’s feature by Betty Debnam that is now nationally syndicated. In his second stint with the Times, Jones brought Debnam to Wilson for a Newspapers in Education luncheon in 1999.

In 1996, Jones earned a Knight Foundation fellowship to advise journalists on press freedom issues in the Republic of Georgia, a former Soviet-bloc nation where media outlets had been state-controlled.

“At one session, a prominent member of the Georgian government was present, and I asked him publicly, ‘Do you fear the free press?’” Jones said in 2007. “‘Yes,’” he said. Then one of the seminar participants asked me publicly, ‘What would have been the answer to that question in America?’

“‘It would have been the same,’ I said, ‘because governments all over the world fear the free press.’ Why? Because the free press is uncontrollable and therefore unpredictable. And because the free press might print the truth. Your letters help us do that.”

Jones’ remarks show him to be a firm believer in the First Amendment who saw the job of advertising sales as an indispensable partner to that of reporters and editors.

“Years ago, Morgan decided that he wanted to make The Wilson Daily Times the best small daily newspaper in North Carolina, and he continues to pursue that goal,” Jones said at the 2007 luncheon. “As one of the few remaining locally owned dailies in the state, that decision was not made by strangers in some remote corporate headquarters, but right here. That is a huge positive for Wilson.”

Jones is survived by his wife, Susie Jones, and four children and their spouses.