Where Are They Now? Former Johnson City mayor now spends time with children, grandchildren

Becky Campbell • Updated May 7, 2018 at 8:57 AM

Duffie Jones has been a hands on kind of person most of her life — from involvement with her four boys’ activities growing up in Johnson City, to community volunteering, to public service on the Board of Education and City Commission and director of Hands On! Museum in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Now, her hands-on work is in her garden and with her children and grandchildren.

An FYI for Johnson City citizens who knew Jones when she lived here — she hasn’t lost that Alabama accent that set her apart in East Tennessee. Jones was in the public spotlight for more than a decade when she served on the school board and commission — part of that time as mayor — and director of Hands On! Her public service ended in 2003 after one term on the commission, then she retired from Hands On! in 2006.

“When I moved to Johnson City, I didn’t know a soul except my husband,” Jones said. “I came with a suitcase and the wedding presents ... that’s all I had.”

While her husband, the late Dr. Charles B. Jones, built his medical practice, she worked as a medical technologist at the old Memorial Hospital. After her first son came — three more would follow in the years to come — she became a stay-at-home mother, but also wanted time for herself. That manifested in the form of volunteer work. 

“I visited people in the projects that were shut-ins, I got involved in the Junior League, I was involved with Watauga Mental Health and served on the board of directors, I volunteered with the Cub Scouts, PTA ... all the activities of my children in the school was a great interest to me.”

In 1987, Jones made her first bid for elected office on the Johnson City Board of Education.

“I really wanted to put my efforts toward improving services for children …. to make Johnson City a better place for all of us. I really enjoyed my affiliations with all the organizations — from Girls Club to Hands On! to Boy Scouts to Little League. I tried to contribute to whatever I could ... and make a difference.” 

During her school board tenure, Jones was hired to be the director of Hands On!, a job she held for 12 years before retiring in 2006. Also during that time, she served one term on the City Commission, part of which was as the mayor.

Throughout all that, she survived the death of her husband and cancer.

“When I wasn't reelected, I was satisfied because I felt like I had given it my all,” Jones said. “The voters chose, and I could live with it.“

Even though she had life and death situations going on — her husband died in 2002 and she was going through cancer treatments — the structure of being on the City Commission and serving as mayor actually helped her. 

“It was a stressful time but being the mayor of Johnson City was such an important thing. I could put my energy toward something. The discipline of the meetings and things I had commitments towards helped me at that time. I always do better with structure,” she said.

After retirement in 2006, Jones spent time getting her house in order to sell and three years later she made the move to Knoxville, where two of her sons live as well as four of her six grandchildren. It’s taken time, but Jones has settled into her retired life and enjoys being closer to family. 

“Relocating, it takes quite a while to get acclimated to the change,” she said. “I lived in Johnson City for 42 years. Coming down here, starting from the bottom,” wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

In addition to being closer to all four sons and all the grandkids, Jones said it’s a shorter trip back home to visit family in Alabama.

“My life in Knoxville is really good,” she said, but it doesn’t involve politics or other public engagement.

“It’s given me the time to be able to visit with my siblings, I have the freedom to have the time to do things that are very important.”

She has worked some in the Knoxville area, including part-time jobs at Blue Cross Blue Shield during Medicare registration and in the plant section at Lowes. A fall and serious spinal injury at home last year, however, put an end to the garden center work.

Jones said she had spinal surgery and went to the Patricia Neal Center for 21 days, where she went through physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and swallowing therapy.

“The main thing is I’m doing well now,” she said. “They asked me what my goals were … I wanted to get better so I could go back home and live like I was living before. It tells you how quickly things can change.”

And back home is exactly where Jones is these days. She sees her grandchildren more than ever, cooks for her family, does yardwork and, of couse, enjoys Tennessee football.

“I’ve always been a homebody, but now I’m more of a homebody because I have time to be,” she said. “I enjoy piddling around (and) having the flexibility of doing that. It’s a different lifestyle. I have time to do the things that are important to me. I’m spoiled to be able to do this.”

On the topic of recent changes with Hands On!, Jones said she is “thrilled to death that (Executive Director Andy Marquart) is moving forward and has the leadership it needs to stabilize the operations and expand the programming. It was always a concern how Hands On! could move to the next level. I have great admiration for (Marquart) and the collaboration and relationships he’s doing to make sure Hands On! is solidly positioned for the future.”

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