Remembering Ms. Jones

2 March 1976 - 5 October 2018


Following any tragic, unexpected death, we as people tend to remember the fallen as ‘lights’ who shared their positive influence and kindness among those around them.

As aptly stated by 2018 graduate Joanna Gunaraj, a student of debate coach Leslie Jones’s last year, this is simply incorrect; Jones was a “supernova,” and any other descriptor would be a gross understatement and injustice to this incredible woman.

Born in Chicago and raised in Las Vegas, Leslie Jones was the daughter of David and Anne Jones and the oldest of four. In her youth, she developed a talent and passion for music, mastering piano and participating in band in high school. Attending college at Brigham Young University, Jones fell in love with the humanities, and after earning a degree in the subject with an emphasis in film studies, dedicated her life to travel and teaching.

Beginning her career in education at Apache Junction High School as an English instructor, she relocated to Higley, and then Williams Field, and finally, to Perry High School. With each school transfer, she shared her contagious laughter and optimistic attitude with the students she left behind, and this most recent departure from Perry after a sudden heart attack was no different.

I had the extraordinary privilege of being a student of Jones’s. As I attended her ‘Celebration of Life’ and looked around the nearly packed auditorium at the numerous young faces of previous students and heard the heartfelt deliveries given by two recent graduates who knew her personally, I was not surprised others too recognized the privilege they had in knowing her.

Learning about art history from her with only five other students, I got a clear sense of the genuine interest Jones had for both the subject, and for us as students. She was funny and empathetic, and, above all, honest. She was real and accessible, and nowhere were these qualities more apparent than within the messages delivered at her ‘Celebration of Life.’

Her father spoke proudly about his daughter’s unique, innate ability, even in her youth, to converse with and befriend any person, seeking to learn as much as she could about those around her.

Close friend and fellow teacher, Randy Duren, reflected upon Ms. Jones as someone, who in his 10 years of knowing her, had always been “helpful without hesitation” and highly valued “being present” and “making connections.”

Ryan Schorr, a previous student at Williams Field High School, defined “superlative” as Leslie Jones, relating how her numerous AP and Teacher of the Year awards that she received were only a small fraction of both the intellectual and emotional brilliance she possessed.

Her boyfriend, Chris Blankinship, noted that her energy radiated in all of her hobbies and pastimes, whether it was participating in acapella groups, attending students’ fine arts performances, or destroying family members in Trivial Pursuit.

Another teacher who knew her well, Jennifer Pesato Farrlley, thanked Jones for her humility and friendship, echoing Duren’s compliments of Jones’s “disarming smile.”

As the service closed, Gunaraj imparted a few final words on how Ms. Jones “lived life vibrantly and unapologetically” and “chipped away at the ego” of each of her students, molding them into the “person [he/she] needed to be out of a sea of insecurities.”

I agree with Joanna that “it still blows my mind that Ms. Jones was even a real person,” and I take comfort in knowing that just as the stardust of a supernova clusters and forms new stars, her spirit will continue on in the lives of her hundreds of past students.