Abilene’s Tommy Lee Jones Sr. credits family, church, and community for the good life he’s lived
By Floyd Miller
Looking back on a life of running a business, portraying Buffalo Soldiers, raising seven successful children, and filling a variety of volunteer positions, Abilene’s Tommy Lee Jones Sr. says at age 88 that he’s had a good life.
Jones was born in Arcadia, Louisiana. He lived there until he was eight or nine years old when his mother moved to Breckenridge, Texas. She taught him about the Lord and kept him in church.
Jones completed high school in Breckenridge, graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, where he played football, basketball, baseball and ran track.
As an all-Black school, Booker T. Washington High and its facilities were below the standards of the white school across town, but the teachers were outstanding. Jones noted that his principal, Mr. R. D. Hearn, “was like a father to a group of us boys who came up together. We had a whole lot of respect for him.”
Jones said that he always wanted to own a business. He and his late wife, Martha, owned Jones Cleaners and Laundry, the first Black-owned cleaners in Breckenridge. Jones started as an employee of the business, and when his boss decided to retire, his boss sold the business to him. That business would help him and Martha take care of their seven children.
In addition to owning a business, Jones had several other careers. He played semi-pro baseball for four years in Oklahoma. He was in the Cincinnati Reds organization and played center field and short stop.
Later in life, Jones worked for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. His responsibilities included speaking and educating groups across the state of Texas about the life of the Buffalo Solider. He and Dr. A. C. Jackson were among the men from this area that re-enacted the life of the Buffalo Soldier, who were Black soldiers who mainly served on the Western frontier following the American Civil War. In 1866, six all-Black cavalry and infantry regiments were created after Congress passed the Army Organization Act. Their main tasks were to help control the Native Americans of the Plains, capture cattle rustlers and thieves and protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews along the Western front. Jones enjoyed that job.
He mentioned an incident that took place in the Palestine, Texas. He said, “we were supposed to speak at a park in Palestine, Texas. There was a confederate flag flying in the park, and the person in charge of the park wanted us to salute the confederate flag. We said that we would not. We called the state office in Austin and were told we didn’t have to salute the confederate flag if we didn’t want to.” Jones said that they did not salute the flag.
Jones also ran for city council when he lived in Breckenridge. He said, “I did not win, but I had a lot of supporters.”
Jones said that he feels like “Blacks had it better in Breckenridge than in many other places.”
Jones was very active in the lives of his seven children and the lives of other children in the community. He coached several softball teams, and was also a troop Scoutmaster for Troop #25. The troop was sponsored by his church, Bethel Baptist. Jones and his wife had goals for their children; they wanted them to know the Lord and to do better than they did. He feels like they have accomplished that, and he and his late wife Martha were very proud of them.
In 1997 he moved to Abilene after retiring from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. He worked at a pharmacy for five years and also helped his daughter Tonya Jones-Hunter and son Larry Jones at Southwest Home Health.
Jones volunteered for Meals on Wheels for nine years and sometimes took people to the doctor. “Sometimes people would not have enough money for medicine. I would go back to the office, and we would get together and raise money so that they could have their medicine,” he said.
Jones said that he wanted his children to exceed his accomplishments. Let’s look in on them. All of his children have at least two years of college, and some are college graduates. Lonnie continues to enjoy a successful career at the Abilene Assisted Living Facility. Larry is a minister and works for Lubbock Independent School District. Tommy Jr. owned a home health business with brother Greg. After selling the home health business, he bought a concrete business and sold it after three years. He now owns pharmacies in Dallas and Houston. Greg now works for the State of Texas, and he and Tommy Jr. along with Tonya have been involved in multiple business ventures. Tonya Jones-Hunter retired from Southwest Home Health, after 20 years a business she co-owned with brother Larry. Kim Scarlett works for the Abilene Independent School District as a teacher, and Felix retired after 20 year of military service and is a minister in New Orleans.
As our interview was coming to an end, I asked the 88-year-old man to sum up his life. He said, “I have had a good life. I was married for 35 years, but my wife and I remained best of friends until her recent passing.”
He went on to say, “You need to spend a whole lot of time with your family, get them into church, get them working for Him. And then, I think, that way your family can grow more stronger; you know by keeping your kids in church. And then when you are working in the community, take them with you, let them see what you are doing. I think that makes them stronger. You gotta keep pushing them wherever they go and whatever they do. Don’t forget about the Lord and the church. That can open up a whole lot of doors.”
Tommy and Martha Jones have seven children, 30 grandchildren, 63 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. What a legacy!
I am reminded of this scripture: Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate. Psalms 127: 4-5.
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