HAMPDEN, Maine — Fred Jones was a stickler for correctness, and everyone with whom he came in contact was the better for it.
Jones, a beloved and respected English teacher at John Bapst High School and the longtime organist and choirmaster at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, died early Saturday evening at Eastern Maine Medical Center, just a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 71 years old.
At St. John’s, Jones was well-known for his mastery of the organ as well as for establishing a world-class, multiage choir that performed traditional Anglican pieces in some of the great cathedrals of Great Britain. At John Bapst, where he taught for 29 years, students and faculty alike benefited from his passion for the English language, his delight in the classics of literature and his boundless curiosity about the Celtic world.
On Sunday, during the annual spring concert at John Bapst, Jones was remembered as “the kind of teacher who changes students’ lives” by Head of School Melville MacKay. Jones, who had planned to retire in June, not only taught the standards of English literature to his students but also introduced them to Old and Middle English through works such as the epic poem Beowulf and the tales of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Jones also is the author of a recently published book about ancient Celtic culture, “Chasing the Sun: A Journey in Neolithic Speculation.”
“A scholar who is teaching passionately is an inspiration to students,” MacKay said. In addition to teaching classes and participating in other activities at the school, Jones guided many students on school-sponsored trips to Great Britain, helping them weave together the strands of history, literature and culture, MacKay said.
Jones’ deeply informed interest in ancient Celtic cultures and archeological sites further enhanced his effectiveness as a teacher and enriched the academic environment of the school, MacKay said. He was extremely popular with students, “and not because he was an easy teacher. Dr. Jones was famous for being a stickler when it comes to correct writing,” MacKay said.
Before learning of their teacher’s pending retirement or his cancer diagnosis, the class of 2010 dedicated their yearbook to him.
Jones’ passion, high standards and insistence on correctness also characterized his approximately 30-year tenure at St. John’s Episcopal Church, around the corner from John Bapst. He often led small groups of students from the school to the church and played the organ works of Bach and other composers for them there.
Mother Marguerite Steadman, who assumed the ministry of St. John’s two years after Jones resigned as music director in 2005, said he leaves behind a powerful legacy. Under Jones’ leadership, the choir achieved a high degree of artistry and proficiency in performing the early choral works of the Anglican church, Steadman said. Jones also “built from scratch” a youth choir program that has attracted two generations of youngsters, both from within the Episcopal community and from beyond its borders, she said.
The St. John’s choir, including children, teens and adults, made several trips to Great Britain beginning in 1986 and performed in many Anglican churches and cathedrals. Few Episcopal choirs in this country are considered proficient enough to sing in Anglican or Church of England settings.
Jones also established a tradition of monthly choral evensong services at St. John’s and founded an annual weeklong summer choir camp for children at the church. Under his direction, the choir made three recordings, with proceeds from sales used to fund choir-related activities.
Steadman said Jones’ legacy includes creating within the members of the parish “the expectation and the experience of choral beauty in their worship.”
In particular, she said, “his impact on young persons’ lives cannot be overestimated.”
Among the young lives touched by Fred Jones are those of Nancy Soule Marks of Orono and her children. In 1980, Marks, who is now 41, was among the first youngsters in Jones’ children’s choir at St. John’s. The church was already her spiritual home, she said, where she had attended with her parents, who sang in the choir at the time.
Marks recalled Jones as a tall, imposing man who, from the very beginning, demanded the best from his young charges. But, she added, he had a light touch with children and knew how to engage them.
“He was very exacting, and we all thrived on it,” she said. “The implication was ‘of course you can.’ There was never any question but that we could do it.”
Marks has stayed active in the church choral group throughout her life. Now her two oldest children, ages 12 and 10, also sing in the St. John’s choir, which is under interim leadership.
Grieving her mentor’s death, Marks recalled Jones with profound affection and emotion, calling him “a man of deep inner faith and spirituality.”
“He was always a teacher,” she said, “and he lived what he taught.”
Students, choristers, colleagues and others who knew Jones have contributed an emotional outpouring of appreciation and support to his family via the Facebook social networking site.
Fred Jones is survived by his wife, Judy Jones, four grown children and three grandchildren. Fred and Judy Jones celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary in November.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 22, at St. John’s Episcopal Church on French Street in Bangor.