When Marjorie Jones stepped into The Seattle Times newsroom in 1950, she didn’t think much about the significance of her hiring, her friends and family said. She instead focused on her work, pouring her heart into stories she hoped would help others.
And yet she was a trailblazer at the paper. Jones and Alice Staples, whose first byline appeared in The Times in 1944, were the newsroom’s first female general-assignment reporters — the only two women who worked on stories outside the “society” section.
Staples was 100 years old when she died in 2008. At the time, Jones told The Times that Staples would “talk up to anybody,” adding, “You had to as a woman in the old days.”
Jones, a compassionate journalist, an avid horsewoman and a beloved family member, died Dec. 5 in her home, surrounded by friends. She was 103 years old.
Jones was born a day before her twin brother, Joe, on Nov. 6, 1917, in Regina, Saskatchewan, though they were adopted into separate families after their mother, Florence Knott, gave up the twins, said Barbara Ross, Jones’ niece who lives in Oliver, British Columbia. Their father was never a part of their lives, said Ross, 73.
Jones was adopted by Orange K. and Rowena Jones, and grew up with her adoptive brother, Jack, in a small Canadian village called Avonlea, about an hour southwest of Regina. The family was very close, Ross said, before they hit “extremely difficult years” — when Jones was 9 years old, her mother died of cancer. About three years after her mother’s death, Jones’ father decided his daughter needed some “motherly influence” and sent her to live with friends — the McRorie family, who also lived in Avonlea, Ross said.
While living with the McRories — a family with three young daughters whom Jones came to see as her sisters, Ross said — she learned how to take care of children, cook, clean and help with other chores around the house.
Then, when Jones was 18, her father also fell ill and died. Shortly after, her brother Jack was killed in a car crash, Ross said. She didn’t reconnect with her birth mother until she was in her 20s, after her mother had remarried and had five more children — Jones’ half-siblings, including Ross’ mother, Myrtle.
After her brother died, Jones left Avonlea and returned to Regina, where she enrolled in a technical school to study journalism. She briefly moved to Wisconsin, where her adoptive parents still had family, but returned to Regina in the early 1940s to tackle her first reporting job at the Regina Leader-Post, Ross said.
There, she was instructed to take a train each day to a different stop in the newspaper’s circulation area. Her goal was to find stories at each stop.
During the 1940s, she bounced between different local newspapers in Canada, including the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Bulletin, before eventually moving to the Pacific Northwest and joining The Times newsroom in 1950.
“She was discouraged with the acceptance of women as newspaper reporters,” Ross said. “So (she and a friend) hopped on the train, gathering up as many things as she had … and came to Seattle.”
She happily spent the rest of her journalism career at the paper — covering women’s issues, crime and natural disasters, among other news and human-interest stories she did. But Ross said her aunt used to tell her she always wanted “more adventure” in her articles.
“She loved her career,” Ross said. “It’s just she always had a yearning for the biggest story of the day.”
Former Seattle Times reporter Don Duncan remembers Jones — or “Marj,” as friends and family called her — as a sharp, empathetic reporter and a sweet person.
When Duncan was hired in 1958, “Marjorie was already there in the center of the room,” he said. “She was so good that people would come through the door and ask, ‘Can we talk to the lady who writes the real nice stories?’
“I remember taking her down to The Times when she was 100,” Duncan said. “Marj said, ‘No one would want to see me.’ Well, she couldn’t get in the door — they all practically mobbed her. … She was just a doll and everybody loved her.”
Greg Gilbert, a Times photographer who joined the paper in 1967, said he still has fond memories of working on assignments with Jones and her dry sense of humor. Once, while driving back from an assignment around Christmas, she taught Gilbert all the words to the carol, “Good King Wenceslas,” he said.
“Every year, on her birthday, I would call her [and] when she answered the phone, I would start singing ‘Good King Wenceslas,’ which brought her laughter, and she would join me in a phone duet,” he wrote. “I never saw her get mad at anyone, she kept her cool always. A very classy woman to the end.”
Mike Siegel, another Times photographer who worked with Jones in the 1980s, said he also remembers the effortless kindness and enthusiasm she brought to each reporting assignment.
“She was never burnt out doing her job and had a great attitude, which is something I learned from her at the beginning of my career and remember[ed] that I wanted to be like that, making every assignment important,” Siegel wrote.
But she also laughed easily around the newsroom. Once, after a co-worker pranked her by slipping a dead frog into her purse, she retaliated a few days later by leaving horse manure wrapped in wax paper in his desk.
“If you mess with Marjorie, she’d find a way to get back at you,” Duncan said, laughing.
In the 1970s, Jones bought a quaint two-bedroom house on an acre of pasture in Bridle Trails, a Bellevue neighborhood. She lived there — for many years, with her beloved horse, Nimrod — until her death.
Outside work, she stayed busy. She was the president of the Lake Washington Saddle Club, teaching equestrian skills to children, and served on various neighborhood committees, including one that succeeded in preserving Bridle Trails’ Viewpoint Park, which developers had wanted to rezone for commercial property. She also helped found a halfway house for women released from detention, serving 16 years on its board of directors.
On weekends over the summer, she liked to go camping and horseback riding through the Cascades, usually near small towns like Winthrop or Twisp. She was still riding horses well into her 80s, only stopping when she said she “couldn’t clean their feet” as well as she used to, Ross said.
And she loved traveling — some of her favorite trips were to Ireland, Mexico and Africa, her niece said.
After Jones retired from The Times in 1982, she spent her time attending the theater, watching movies, feeding the birds in her yard, voraciously reading and solving The New York Times’ daily crossword puzzle — always in “arrogant ink,” as Duncan called it. And she never missed a Mariners game, whether she watched in person or on TV.
“The last five days of her life are probably the only days she did not read (The Seattle Times) or do the crossword,” Ross said. “The paper was delivered right to her backdoor and that was the first thing she did each morning, with her cup of coffee.”
And though Jones never married or had children, she was constantly surrounded by friends and family, Ross said.
“She was alone, but never lonely,” said Delores Smith, who was Jones’ close friend and neighbor for 45 years.
At her 100th birthday party, which was held at family friend Becky Bay’s home in Kirkland, the house was filled with people.
“She was always there,” said Bay, whose mother was one of Jones’ best friends. “She was my mother’s friend, she was my father’s friend. She was the quintessential family friend.”
Bay said she had known Jones since she was born — “Marjorie Parjorie Jones,” 2-year-old Bay used to say. She’ll never forget the line with which Jones ended many of their visits: “Take care of yourself, and know that I love you.”
Jones is survived by at least 20 nieces and nephews and dozens of grand and great-grand nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Bridle Trails Park Foundation or The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.