“WHO WAS...?” JESSE H. JONES Photography by Harris & Ewing Photography courtesy of www.tshaonline.org Construction of Jones Hall Jesse Jones, center, chairman of the RFC By Tim Moloney Maybe you’ve been to Jones Hall downtown, which celebrated its 50th birthday last month. Or attended an outdoor party at Jones Plaza. Or graduated from the Jesse H. Jones School of Business at Rice University. WHO WAS THIS JONES CHARACTER? A very important – if not THE most important – man in the development of Houston. He was born in Robertson County, Tennessee, on April 5, 1874. Armed with only an eighth grade education and natural business acumen, Jones set off for Houston, Texas, in 1894 on a journey that would take him to the heights of wealth and power. Jones made his mark in real estate and banking, and transformed the city of Houston into a hub of international commerce for the South. Besides owning nearly 100 buildings in Houston, Jones also built structures in Fort Worth, Dallas and New York City. In 1908, he bought part of the Houston Chronicle (by 1926, he owned all of it). In 1912, he was president of the National Bank of Commerce (later Texas Commerce Bank, and by 2008, part of JPMorgan Chase & Co.). During this period he made one of his few ventures into oil as an original stockholder in Humble Oil and Refining Company (now Exxon Company, U.S.A.). 44 L O C A L | november 16 In December 1920, Jones married MARY GIBBS (her namesake Mary Gibbs Jones College is also located at Rice University). Jones served as director of finance for the Democratic National Committee, made a $200,000 donation, and promised to build a convention hall. These actions were key to bringing the 1928 Democratic national convention to Houston. As chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and later Secretary of Commerce, Jones became one of the most powerful men in America. He helped prevent the nationwide failure of farms, banks, railroads and many other businesses. The RFC became the leading financial institution in America and the primary investor in the economy. After 14 years of public service in Washington, D.C., Jones returned to Houston in 1947 and began to focus on philanthropy. In 1937, Jones and his wife founded Houston Endowment, Inc. Jones had always felt handicapped by his lack of formal education; he began supporting scholarship programs, including programs for women and minority students. Jones was eager to assist young men and women of all races obtain a college education and improve their stations in life. By the time he died on June 1, 1956, he had helped more than 4,000 students through scholarship programs in 57 colleges and universities.