Bonnie Brown: Q&A with UM School of Pharmacy Professor, Alan B. “Skip” Jones

*Editor’s Note: The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is School of Pharmacy Professor Alan B. “Skip” Jones. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Dr. Jones was a young professor and one of my bosses in the Pharmaceutics Department in the School of Pharmacy in 1972.  He was an excellent, dedicated researcher. I always remember his being kind and thoughtful and well-liked by his colleagues and the students.  Skip Jones has a great Ole Miss story to share.

Skip Jones

Brown:  Where did you grow up?  What is special about the place you grew up?  

Jones: I grew up in the oil fields of the central United States.  I have often said my youth was spent between the Rocky Mountains, the Mississippi River, the Canadian Border and the Gulf of Mexico.  I was born in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, but that just happened to be where Dad was working at the time. My father worked in oil field construction so the family moved quite frequently, every four to six months or so in the early years with that expanding to ten to twelve months in later years.  I attended twelve different schools before graduating from high school. At the end of a school year, we would close up the house, pack up the car, and head off to Louisiana, West Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, Wyoming or wherever Dad might be going on a job. My last year and a half of high school were spent in Sinton, Texas, a small town on the central Texas coast where Mom and Dad had established a home base.

Brown:  Please talk about your childhood, parents, siblings and any crazy aunts and uncles.   

Jones:  As I said above, my father worked in oil field construction.  Mom kept house and took care of my brother (five years older) and me.  My brother, Bill, is now retired and living in Austin, Texas. He was a quality control engineer for several different companies in the Houston area who manufactured equipment for the oil industry.  Dad started as a welder and worked his way up through foreman and finally to general field superintendent. Company headquarters were in Houston, Texas, but we never lived there until Dad’s last few years with the company when he went into the central office.  The company was very strict about youth working on the job sites; everyone had to be at least 18 years old. So after I finished my freshman year of college, I started working for Dad. Through the years, I had all sorts of jobs: general laborer, electrician helper, welder helper, painter, general flunky and even bookkeeper. There were a few summers that my brother and I worked on the same crew.

Brown:  Where did you go to school? 

Jones:  During my senior year in high school, I applied to The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and was accepted for the following fall.  I went there as an undecided major. I had enjoyed the sciences and mathematics in high school so I concentrated on those courses, especially mathematics.  My sophomore year I was introduced to physics classes and enjoyed them very much so enrolled in a BS in Physics program. In the BS program I could take all of my electives in any department I wished so I filled my class schedule with math classes.  I ended up with significantly more credits in math than in physics. I did not know what I would do with a physics degree but I felt like I would pursue some sort of graduate degree. Following a year out of school while I was fulfilling my military obligation, I returned to UT and enrolled in an MBA program.  After one semester, I was not happy so I returned to math. About that time, one of my roommates introduced me to the directors of a research laboratory in the School of Pharmacy. The laboratory director was Dr. John Autian and the associate director was Dr. Wallace Guess. They were interested in my physical sciences background and hired me.  The next semester, Dr. Autian suggested that I look into pursuing a master’s degree in pharmacy which I did and ended up pursuing a master’s degree in toxicology and Dr. Guess was my supervisor. While finishing that degree, I met and became friends with a visiting professor in pharmacy from The University of Manchester in England. He was involved in a variety of radiation microbiology projects and again my background fit so he invited me to join him for a PhD.  The following fall I packed up my suitcase and off I went to England. After only five months there, I was called back to active duty by the US Army and sent to a US Army hospital in Frankfurt, Germany for seventeen months. While in Frankfurt, I met my wife Joan who was an Army Nurse stationed at the hospital. After we both finished our respective tours of duty, we were married and returned to Manchester for me to renew my PhD program.

Brown:  What were you really into when you were a kid?

Jones:  As a youth, I loved all kinds of outdoor activities, especially fishing and camping.  Every chance we had, my dad and I would go fishing. My interest in outdoor activities also led me into an active course in scouting which I pursued through high school.  Every summer after I was fourteen years old, I worked as a staff member at Scout camp.

Brown:  Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began.  What do you recall about your interview and visit to campus?  

Jones:  My Ole Miss “story” really began while pursuing my Ph.D. in Manchester.  During my time in Manchester, Dr. Guess left Texas and became Dean at the School of Pharmacy at Ole Miss.  Our friendship continued through those years and as I was nearing completion of my Ph.D., I started looking for a job.  One of the first individuals I contacted was Dean Guess, looking for advice and recommendations. Dean Guess was still active in research so he kindly offered me a post-doctoral position in his lab at Ole Miss.  So, in late September 1972 we packed up our suitcases in England and headed for Mississippi, having never been there. We moved into an apartment in Northgate and I started in the lab on October 1.

Brown:  Who hired you?  How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Jones:  In November 1972, a faculty member in the Pharmaceutics Department resigned to take a position in South Carolina.  Dean Guess called me into his office and asked me if I was interested in a teaching position. I immediately said yes and submitted the necessary paperwork, was officially offered the position which I accepted and started January 1, 1973.  I stayed in the Pharmaceutics Department until my retirement from Ole Miss in June 1999.

Brown:  What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here?

Jones:  I had never been on campus before accepting the post-doctoral position.  I only knew, and had great respect for, Dean Guess. When the opportunity presented itself for me to rejoin his team, I had no hesitation in accepting.

Brown:  I recall that you did research with Dean Guess.   Tell us about those projects.  

Jones:  In the Texas lab, Dr. Guess was involved in toxicological evaluations of plastics and plastic components looking toward using these materials in medical and pharmaceutical applications.  At Ole Miss, I became involved in evaluations of those same plastics that had undergone selective chemical sterilization processes. The agents utilized tended to be highly reactive so various by-products could form during the process.  We were interested in the residual levels of these components and the techniques and procedures used to remove these components from the plastic after sterilization but before use.

Brown:  Please talk about your career path after you left Ole Miss.

Jones:  When I left Ole Miss in 1999, we moved to Parkland, Florida where I took a job with two companies owned by the same individual, Substance Abuse Management, Inc. (SAMI) and Managed Athletic Drug Testing (MATS).  SAMI was managing workplace drug testing programs for transportation industry clients nationwide and I served as the VP for Scientific Affairs. MATS was managing the drug testing program worldwide for professional tennis and I served as Program Administrator.  In these two jobs, I actually continued on a path that started in my early years at Ole Miss. Around 1980, Dr. Carlton Turner was the director of the Marijuana Project at Ole Miss and Dr. Coy Waller was the director of the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (RIPS) at the school.  Both were heavily involved in marijuana research. A call came in from a colleague of theirs asking for assistance in the analysis of one of the cannabis compounds which was being evaluated for biological activity. Discussions led to Dr. Waller and Dr. Turner asking Dr. Mahmoud Elsohly and me to work on developing an assay for this compound in blood.  That was my first experience with marijuana materials and it started an interest in analyzing biological fluids for drugs of abuse. Shortly after Dr. Turner moved to Washington D.C. to work in the Reagan Administration, he invited both Dr. Elsohly and me to a conference on urine drug testing with military and government personnel. That led to my working with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Department of Defense as they established testing protocols for drugs of abuse.  It was this background that led me into the private industry at SAMI and MATS. In 2003, SAMI was sold and MATS closed so I moved over to a third company with the same ownership know as RAIR Technologies. RAIR was a document management company also serving transportation industry clients throughout the US and Canada. I served as Senior VP of Customer Affairs. In 2004, I assisted in moving the organization to Milwaukee. In 2006, I retired and returned to a home we had built in The Villages, Florida.  Since that time, I have continued to work in athletic drug testing. I serve as a consultant and case reviewer to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, an organization that manages athletic drug testing for the US Olympic Committee and all Olympic related sports.

Brown:  Who influenced you in your early life?  Did you have a mentor who influenced your career choice?

Jones:  In my early years, as noted previously, I was very active in scouting.  The various Scout Masters and Assistant Scout Masters I served with were very influential and often served as a second father to me.  They taught me many life skills and guided me through making many decisions. In high school, I had all of my science classes (biology, chemistry, and physics) taught by a wonderful teacher, Mr. George Williges.  Mr. Williges stimulated my interest in science and while working on a field project for his Ph.D. during the spring of my senior year, he would take several of us with him to the field on Saturdays to work with him, collecting samples and doing field observations.  It was great fun and very educational.

Brown:  Tell us about your wife, Joan and how you all met.  

Jones:  As I said earlier, we met in Frankfurt Germany while both of us were stationed at the US Army hospital there.  I arrived in Frankfurt around mid-January 1969 and was assigned to the hospital pharmacy. Joan arrived a month or so later.  The first or second day at the hospital, she came to the pharmacy to lookup an individual who had gone to school at the University of North Carolina with one of her younger brothers and Tom happened to be one of my roommates so we met at that time.  We all became part of a group consisting of several nurses and several guys from the pharmacy who traveled together and would gather on weekends at one of the group member’s apartments for a few beers and a cookout. Joan actually dated a couple of my other roommates before we started dating in the spring of that year.  I guess we knew a lot about each other before we ever started dating.

Joan and Skip Jones. Photo provided.

Brown:  It would be great to get an update on your two lovely daughters, Camilla and Kimberly.

Jones:  We now live in Manhattan, Kansas, the home of Kansas State University.  It was largely because of our two daughters that we moved to Manhattan. In the early 2000s, Kimberly and her husband were in Birmingham, Alabama and followed that by a stay in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Kimberly’s husband was finishing a radiology residency and they had a radiology fellowship at Tulane. While in Birmingham, they had our first grandson. On the other hand, Camilla, our younger daughter was completing a master’s degree at Clemson University and working for University Housing.  

Camilla spent a summer internship at Kansas State and after returning to Clemson, in the spring of 2004, she was offered a position at K State which she accepted.  In 2006, Kimberly’s husband Kelly linked up with a radiology group here in Manhattan and was offered a position with the group, which he accepted. Thus, both daughters, one son-in-law, and one grandson had moved from Louisiana or South Carolina to Manhattan.  Over the next couple of years, Kimberly and Kelly had a second son. Camilla enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Higher Education and met a young faculty member from Iowa who was also working on a Ph.D. They both completed their Ph.D. programs, then married, and now have two lovely daughters.  So, with all of the family in Manhattan and us 1,350 miles away in Florida, we decided to move. Now we are all together and constantly trying to keep up with grandchildren activities.

Camilla and Kevin Roberts with daughters Morgan and Taylor.
Kimberly and Kelly Ivester with sons Will and Jackson.

Brown:  What three words best describe you?

Jones:  A very tough question: 

Detail-oriented

High goals

Competitive

Brown:  Do you have a favorite quote?  What is it and why is it your favorite?

Jones:  Someone once said, “It matters not if you win or lose, giving it your best is what really counts.”

Brown:   To what do you attribute the biggest successes in your life?  

Jones:  Being involved in the raising of two wonderful daughters who have gone on to raise wonderful children of their own.

Skip and Joan with Grandchildren Jackson, Will, Taylor and Morgan Photo provided

Brown:  If your life were a book, what would the title be?

JonesWilling to Take the Risks as They are Encountered

Brown:  Does technology simplify life or make it more complicated?

Jones:  I would say that technology simplifies my life because of the process acceleration it offers and the ability to move from one task to another without losing prior work.

Brown:  What’s your favorite way to waste time?

Jones:  In the past few years, I have grown very interested in songbirds in and around my back yard.  We have a large double window on the back of our kitchen and out of it I can see several feeders I have placed across the yard.  Since moving to Manhattan, we see a different population of songbirds from what we had in Florida or Mississippi. That has also been a great learning curve.

Brown:  Where’s your favorite vacation destination and why is it your favorite?

Jones:  Having lived and traveled around the world, Joan and I have come to the conclusion that we seem to truly enjoy wherever we are at that moment.  But, I would say that our trip to Alaska has been our favorite.

Brown:  What’s the most useful thing you own and why?

Jones:  My computer system is by far the most useful thing I own.  It allows me rapid communication with friends across the world or down the block.  It also gives me access to an unlimited reference library on every topic I ever want to research.

Brown:  What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood?

Jones:  In general, give me a good book and I become a happy camper.

Brown:  What/who in your life brings you the most joy?

Jones:  No question about the answer, my wife and family.

Brown:  What has been your routine since retirement?  Do you have any hobbies?

Jones:  Since retirement, I seem to keep myself busy.  I enjoy going to the gym three to four times a week for an hour workout.  I love container gardening so I generally have several large planters going with various flowers throughout the growing season.  I have also enjoyed fishing. Growing up, my father and I fished every chance we had but after leaving home that fell by the wayside.  I picked the hobby back up while in Florida and have continued it here in Kansas. Joan and I enjoy day trips around eastern Kansas. Having never lived here previously, there is so much history to learn and see.  We also enjoy short courses offered by a joint extension program between Kansas State and Kansas U. These are frequently history topics and consist of a two-hour lecture weekly for three weeks and are generally presented by faculty from one of the universities.  I try to play 18 holes of golf at least once a week and then there are always the grandchildren with soccer, softball, tennis, basketball, volleyball, theater performances, gymnastics, and school productions during the academic year. So, we are not idle.

Brown:  What are some things that you have marked off your bucket list?  What remains on your bucket list?

Jones:  Things that I have marked off my bucket list visit Australia and Alaska.  My bucket list is empty right now.

Brown:  To quote Katherine Meadowcroft, Cultural activist and writer, “What one leaves behind is the quality of one’s life, the summation of the choices and actions one makes in this life, our spiritual and moral values.”  What is your legacy?

Jones:  I hope that I have been an influence on the students I have had in various classes over the past years and that I was able to stimulate them to set their goals high and shoot for those aspirations they loved.  I also hope that in my chosen profession, I have been able to expand the knowledge base which has allowed others who follow to continue to do the same.


Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

She can be contacted at bbrown@olemiss.edu.

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