Guilford Jones, who taught chemistry at Boston University for 38 years, died on July 10 after battling Parkinson’s Disease for 15 years. He was 75.
Before retiring in 2010, Jones was chair of the Chemistry Department and helped establish the BU Photonics Center. His main research involved synthesizing molecules to create “artificial photosynthesis.”
Jason Jones, his son, said he hopes his father is remembered for both his academic achievement, which included research into organic photochemistry, and for his personal passions and optimistic personality.
“My hope that he’ll be remembered for his science, his research, his teaching, his mentoring of multiple graduate students and undergraduates through their academic experience,” Jason Jones said. “I hope he’s remembered for his love of music and his sort of constant optimism and seeing the bright bright side of things, even when things were really dark and depressing.”
BU professor Lawrence Ziegler, who was hired by Jones in 1991 and worked with him for almost 20 years, said Guilford Jones was a very social and outgoing person, which he doesn’t usually see in scientists.
“What distinguished Gill, I think in part, was that aside from this intellectual mission that he was on and creating his science,” Ziegler said, “he also had this wonderful Southern charm and a Southern graciousness.”
Guilford Jones was born in Jackson, Tennessee and got his undergraduate degree at Rhodes College, where he met his wife. He then got his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin Madison, did postdoctoral training at Yale University and began working at BU in 1971.
Guilford Jones was an academic at heart, his son said. He loved to get into philosophical discussions and had a gift for seeing issues from many perspectives.
“He would often take multiple different positions in an argument, trying to see things from all different sides,” Jason Jones said. “It was clear throughout that he was really passionate about his work, and about his students and mentees at the university.”
Guilford Jones was an active member of the BU community and was proud to work for the school.
“He loved [his job], it meant the world to him,” Jason Jones said. “He was a strong advocate and fan of Boston University, he was proud of how the university gained national and global prominence over the time that he was there.”
Ziegler said Jones was an active person who wanted to make a difference in the world. This manifested in the way he tried to improve the Chemistry Department by bringing in senior scientists and his part in funding the Photonics Center, Ziegler said.
“He liked to see himself as a shaker and a mover at the university,” Zieigler said. “He really enjoyed these types of fundraising activities that drew on his social skills, his enjoyment of social interactions, to try to use those skills and that activity to make the Boston University Chemistry Department a better department.”
Guilford Jones was very passionate about his hobbies. He loved music and singing and he loved poker, both of which he continued to do even while sick. Ziegler said he enjoyed all types of music, particularly music the ‘50s and ‘60s, and sang in his church choir.
“He was singing through all these years of being sick,” Ziegler said. “That didn’t slow him.”
Guilford Jones also had an entrepreneurial spirit. He co-founded an early company out of the Photonics Center called PhotoSecure, Inc., which uses special dyes to allow products to be identified using the dye’s photo-signature.
Relationships with students and mentees meant a lot to Jones, Ziegler said. He was very supportive but also held his students to a high standard and was very proud when they went on to be successful.
“He was a very caring and thoughtful advisor,” Ziegler said. “I hope he’s remembered as someone who was tremendously caring about students and his colleagues.”
Jason Jones said he and the BU Chemistry Department are currently in the process of organizing a lecture series on photochemistry in his father’s memory.
The professor’s family is asking for people to make donations in Guilford Jones’s name to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.