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Howard Jones lived his life by a certain creed and championed others to do the same.
“Never, ever underestimate the mind of a person or what he or she can bring to this world,” Jones would say.
For decades, Jones worked countless hours to bring hope to others by placing them in programs at the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Wilson, which he founded in 1972. Jones died Monday. He was 84.
“Our hearts are broken today to know that the man who brought a vision of empowerment, self-help and equity to Wilson and to countless communities around the state, nation and world, is no longer with us,” said Robert Farris, the OIC of Wilson’s board chairman and a longtime friend of Jones. “Wilson and North Carolina have forever been changed because of Howard’s love for his fellow man and his relentless pursuit for every person.”
Jones believed that no matter where people came from or where they were going, if they were provided an opportunity, they could have a future, a promise and ultimately, a life of hope and purpose.
“He saw the light in you ...,” Jones’ son, Troy, said Tuesday. “He knew you could become more, he knew you could become a greater person.”
‘HE NOW BELONGS TO THE AGES’
The OIC has trained tens of thousands of people in eastern North Carolina on jobs, provided health care screenings and information to tens of thousands and fed hundreds of thousands of hungry and hurting individuals and families throughout the years.
While most people know of the OIC for its massive food distributions, the organization’s main mission is to train and place people on jobs and get them off government assistance. And countless lives have been changed because of Jones’ steadfast mission.
“Wilson, North Carolina has lost a giant,” said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson. “And, I have personally lost a great friend. He now belongs to the ages. The citizens of Wilson and adjoining counties have benefited from the life and work of Howard C. Jones, citizen extraordinaire.”
Butterfield said Jones made contributions to Wilson and eastern North Carolina that cannot be measured.
“For more than 40 years, he immersed himself in his work to help all citizens who could not help themselves,” Butterfield said. “Through his leadership, thousands of citizens were motivated and trained to obtain gainful employment. The OIC team supported him in every respect and carried out his mission of training and finding suitable employment for the unemployed and underemployed. Each holiday, all of Wilson looked forward to the community food delivery at OIC. Through Howard’s relationship with the corporate community, he was able to provide food to families in need.”
‘HE HAD A VISION AND HE WAS DRIVEN’
Jones grew up in Sims, attended college in New York and worked for Weston Electric for years before retiring from the company. He then decided to return to Wilson.
“When he came back, he wanted to make a change,” his son said. “He just saw where Wilson was and thought it needed improvement.”
Jones was in his 30s when he founded the OIC of Wilson in a small office inside the former Mercy Hospital on Green Street. In 1980, the organization moved into the former Vick Elementary School on Reid Street, where it has remained since.
Jones made it his life’s work to give people a second chance.
“He had a vision and he was driven,” Farris said. “And he was not going to deviate from that. He saw Jesus in every person he met. That’s the way he lived.”
‘HE POURED HIS LIFE INTO EVERYONE THAT HE TOUCHED’
The OIC of Wilson is one of 38 affiliates in 22 states under the umbrella of OIC of America which provides education, training and employment to those who are economically disadvantaged with a goal to enable those to become productive and fulfilled members of society.
The late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, a civil rights leader and social activist, who founded OIC of America in 1964, was like a father to Jones, mentoring him for 25 years about stamping out the disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions millions face. Jones traveled with Sullivan across the country and the world, including Africa, where he met Nelson Mandela.
“Howard Jones and all those who followed the footsteps of OIC’s founder, the Rev. Dr. Leon H. Sullivan, will be remembered for the success that the OIC network around the world has enjoyed for so many years,” said James Haynes, OIC of America board chairman and president. “His wisdom and counsel will be missed, but we know that because he poured his life into everyone that he touched, this movement will continue forward. Our hearts go out to his wife, Sylvia, and his beloved children, grandchildren and great grandchild, as well as to the board, staff and volunteers of OIC of Wilson.”
‘WITH EVERY BEAT OF HIS HEART’
Jesse Raudales, the OIC of Wilson’s director of operations, said Jones loved to hear each and every success story. Jones would cry listening to people tell their stories from where they were before the OIC and where they were going after the nonprofit guided them and believed in them.
“There are countless stories of lives that have been forever changed,” Raudales said.
He said Jones was a trailblazer, a gentleman, a philanthropist and a fighter.
“Our leader taught us to persevere in the face of adversity,” Raudales said. “He loved his family, OIC and Wilson with every beat of his heart. He can never be replaced and we will labor to ensure that his legacy is cherished and his work continued.”
‘DID YOU HELP SOMEBODY?”
Throughout the years, Jones was known to always give words of wisdom. Those who came in contact with him could feel his spirit of hope, kindness and love for others.
In a powerful message some time ago, he told a crowd that life is about service to others.
“It really doesn’t make any difference where we live, how much money we’ve got and what neighborhoods we live in, what color we are, it will all come down one day to how much service we give to our fellow man,” Jones said. “What did you do? Did you help somebody? I believe that is going to be the ultimate test and we better pass that test.”
Awards and Recognitions
Howard Jones received more than 100 awards during his service to Wilson. Governors, elected officials and presidents have also honored Jones with many accolades.
He received two Order of the Long Leaf Pine awards, in 1984 and 1999. The award is one of the most prestigious presented by the governor. In 1987, he received the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service.
Also in 1987, he was recognized at the national level with the Thomas Jefferson Award. The same year, the award was also presented to Steve Jobs. The ceremony gave Jones the chance to meet President Ronald Reagan.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented Jones with the Lifetime Achievement Jefferson Award. In 2009, Jones received a First Community Stellar Award from Success Dynamics.
Other laurels include the Outstanding Rural Leader of the Year Award in 2015 and the Wilson Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Citizen of the Year Award in 2016.