Margaret Jones served on Reed school district, Belvedere-Tiburon Library boards
Margaret White Jones, a longtime Belvedere resident whose decades of community leadership included stints on the Reed Union School District and Belvedere-Tiburon Library Agency boards, died May 21 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 90.
In addition to serving eight years each as an elected member of the Reed district board and as an appointed member of the Library Agency board, Mrs. Jones led the League of Women Voters of Marin. In all of those roles, she championed the issues of health care, education and transparency in government.
Mrs. Jones was born Feb. 4, 1932, in Detroit to Hazel and Chester White, an engineer with Ford Motor Co. She and her sister, Joan, grew up in suburban Detroit and other Midwest towns near the Great Lakes.
She attended the University of Chicago before transferring to the University of Michigan, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1954.
She and her husband, Reese, met at the university in the psychology lecture “Phantasms of the Living and the Dead,” given by noted British philosopher Charlie Dunbar Broad.
“She was in the front row playing with a stopwatch as if it were a yo-yo, and I noticed her,” said Reese Jones. He then asked a mutual friend to arrange a meeting.
“I wanted to marry her after our first date, but it took me two years to talk her into it,” he said.
After graduation, Mrs. Jones taught in Cleveland and Ann Arbor, but stopped teaching after her husband graduated from medical school in 1958 and they began raising a family.
After Reese Jones completed his internship at Philadelphia General Hospital, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Jones did his Navy military service as a medical officer at the National Institutes of Health. Whenever Mrs. Jones could get a babysitter, she escaped to the Capitol and sat in on congressional hearings.
The Joneses decided to move to San Francisco after Reese Jones attended a conference and fell in love with the city. He accepted a position at the University of California at San Francisco, and the young family lived in student housing at first.
They couldn’t afford a house in the city, so Mrs. Jones began looking in Marin, where prices were lower then. They borrowed from family members to make the down payment on a small house on a double lot on Bayview Avenue in Belvedere in 1965. They moved to a bigger home one street up in about 1975.
In her mid 50s, Mrs. Jones went back to school and earned a master’s in public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.
The Joneses had three children, a daughter and two sons. Both boys were severely dyslexic as young pupils, and Mrs. Jones “ran into the usual issues of schools wanting to channel them into the slow track,” her husband said. Mrs. Jones had a friend who was a UCSF researcher and a pioneer in understanding dyslexia, so she knew it was not an indicator of low intelligence.
Seeking to make the Reed school district more responsive to children with special learning needs, she ran for the school board in the early 1970s and served two four-year terms.
“It wasn’t her cup of tea, but she did well and the district recruited a new superintendent while she was on the board,” Reese Jones said.
Sue Beittel, a San Rafael resident who served on the San Rafael School District board, worked with Mrs. Jones on committees lobbying Sacramento officials to improve funding for education.
“She was full of innovative ideas and was always sounding them out with people,” Beittel said. “At the same time, she was one of these steady people who was always there and wanting to do things for kids.”
Beittel also worked with Mrs. Jones through the League of Women Voters of Marin.
Mrs. Jones first started volunteering with the league’s San Francisco chapter while the Joneses still lived in the city. She joined the Marin league after she moved to Belvedere and moved through the ranks of different committees, working quietly behind the scenes on health care, education and local elections. She served as the Marin league’s president from 2001 to 2004, and she remained active until she developed Alzheimer’s.
She was instrumental in setting up the structure for the many Marin community candidate forums the league organized or assisted with at election time, including the league’s own forum, which was filmed at Marin’s community-access television studio and broadcast on Marin public-access channels.
In 2005, the league awarded Mrs. Jones the 13th annual Bunny Lucheta Memorial Award for outstanding public service.
Back in the early 2000s, through her work with the league, Mrs. Jones became interested in issues at what was then Marin General Hospital. She was part of a faction that believed hospital operator Sutter Health was milking the hospital as a cash cow.
In 2008, she was named to a Marin General Hospital citizens advisory board. Disparate groups worked to try to preserve Marin General as an independent entity even as Sutter fought to keep from giving it up. Eventually, Sutter was forced out and, within the past few years, the hospital has been renamed MarinHealth Medical Center and is affiliated with UCSF.
Mrs. Jones also got involved in the planning and development of the Belvedere-Tiburon Library back in the early 1990s.
It was she who researched the process of setting up the Belvedere-Tiburon Library Agency, which oversees the library, and she became one of three Belvedere residents appointed to the agency’s inaugural board by the City Council in July 1995. She served until 2003, doing a turn as chair in 2000. The first action item at its first meeting was to move forward with construction of the library.
Mrs. Jones spent a lot of time organizing events and speaker programs for the library; she also launched the popular annual Elaine Petrocelli Literary Luncheon, a fundraiser in which the Strawberry resident and founder of Book Passage bookstore shares her picks for the best books of the year.
However, she opposed the size of the library expansion leading up to approval of the building plans by the Tiburon Town Council in 2012.
In a 2011 Ark article, she lamented that the new library “would lack the current library’s smaller, more intimate spaces.” In March 2012, she wrote a letter to the editor opining that the library wasn’t doing enough to answer the public’s concerns about the size, cost and ongoing operational expenses of the expansion. The same year, she wrote that the Town Council and the library agency had “squandered a chance to unify the community.”
“It was a painful period for the library’s old guard,” her husband said. He said his wife and the expansion critics felt the plans were “grandiose” and that the divisiveness broke her heart.
Though it took several years and revisions, a $18.31-million expansion to add 8,617 square feet to the existing 10,500-square-foot library is expected to wrap up this month after about two years of construction.
Former library Director Debbie Mazzolini, who served more than two decades in the role before retiring at the start of the year, said Mrs. Jones “supported the library in every way.
“When I first came, I would see her every day. She was very active, had all kinds of ideas and was amazing to me,” Mazzolini said. “She was really committed to anything that needed to get done.”
Mrs. Jones’ chief interest outside her community work was reading.
“She loved books and she loved people who wrote books and she loved people who sold books,” her husband said.
A disciple of naturalist Elizabeth Terwilliger, she enjoyed getting outside and taking her children on nature walks. From the time her children were small, she and her husband took them backpacking in the Sierra, sometimes doing 50-mile loops on burros. They regularly skied all the major ski resorts across the west and many in Switzerland.
The Joneses rented a house at Stinson Beach for years and used it for family gatherings. Mrs. Jones loved the beach, and she loved to sail; her husband and son raced Cal-20s, but Mrs. Jones was just happy to be on the water.
After their children went off to college, Mrs. Jones and her husband started traveling to Europe, South America and Japan, where Reese Jones had been invited to speak at conferences. Mrs. Jones would frequently sit in on the conference lectures.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Jones is survived by the couple’s three children, Reese M. Jones of Mendocino, Bruce Christopher Jones of Corte Madera and Laura Jones of Belvedere, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her sister, Joan Potter of Tucson, Ariz., predeceased her.
A private memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations in Mrs. Jones’ memory may be sent to the League of Women Voters of Marin, 4340 Redwood Highway, Suite F-133, San Rafael, CA 94903.
Reach Tiburon reporter Deirdre McCrohan at 415-944-4634