Celebration of Life: David Allen Jones


David Allen Jones passed away on Sept. 18, 2019, barely a month after the passing of his wife Betty and as the new grass is beginning to grow on her grave. He died peacefully and at peace, comforted by and content in the presence of Betty’s abiding spirit and the love of his children and grandchildren.

A public man of vision, action, accomplishment and impact, he is remembered by the thousands whose lives he touched for his joyful, focused interest in them as people; in their families and dreams and in the gifts that flowed from their abilities and efforts. He never forgot a name because he cared about the person it represented. He had confidence in people to achieve what they’d never imagined, if allowed and inspired to do their best work. Caring and confidence were the keys to his leadership and his boundless optimism.

A child of the Depression who grew up in West Louisville, David’s civic accomplishments include founding Humana in 1961 and leading it until his retirement as CEO in 2000 and board chair in 2005. His greatest public legacy is transformation. From a start-up, he led Humana to become the nation’s largest nursing home company, then its largest hospital company and then a leading health insurance company when he retired. He believed in “innovation, not preservation” and in abandoning today’s success to prepare for tomorrow’s.

He contributed in so many spheres. At the request of a president, he led the U.S. healthcare industry in transforming Romania’s broken healthcare system. With the CEOs of UPS and Ashland Oil, he led business and civic support for passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, which transformed and funded dramatic improvement in public education across the state. With Wendell Cherry, he transformed the Louisville arts scene, including by launching Actors Theatre’s Humana Festival of New American Plays. With son Dan, he reimagined Louisville greenspace and developed the Parklands of Floyds Forks. The list could go on.

David was a man of integrity. On the rare occasions when he exchanged his short-sleeved shirt for a business suit, his values and behavior didn’t change. Those who knew him best treasure how he taught and led by example with grace and humor, the courage to face facts and master fear and delight in others’ lives and cares – even in his last days. Optimism and confidence: As he said to his kids in driveway basketball, “The score is three to three, and I’m winning!”

He modeled big things but never preached, for example: how a powerful man should treat those without power, how a wealthy man should view his wealth, how a man of any station should treat his wife and how public service is a duty and a joy; intolerance for bad faith actions of any kind and for hypocrisy or pretense; to be kind to animals and to anything weaker than yourself.

When he reflected in public on life lessons learned, number one was always family: “Family is first. Do your job, but enjoy your family and have a life!” He lived this life in deep and enduring love for Betty, with whom he celebrated 65 years of marriage on July 24. He was constant in his deep love for his five children and their life partners and for his 11 grandchildren. He loved and was loyal to his and Betty’s siblings, nieces and nephews. When young, his children took for granted that he’d never miss their sports or school events. His colleagues marveled that he’d stop anything for Betty’s call.

David believed in action: “You cannot claim the moral high ground by assertion, only by action.” But only when action and thought were paired: “Thought must come before action.” He believed in making decisions fast: “Nothing kills morale and momentum like bureaucratic lassitude!” He was a lifelong learner, always reading and always listening, and he acted on what he heard and read. His proudest accomplishments so often came from carefully listening to other people talk about their own interests: The Male High chum whose successful nursing home sparked the launch of what’s now Humana; Dan’s connection of a Floyds Fork waterfall to Frederic Law Olmsted’s 100-year vision of public parks’ impact on a city.

He saw the deepest responsibility of leadership as creating conditions for colleagues to do their best work and in recognizing them for their effective efforts. Creating good jobs and personal opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of people who worked for the enterprises he led gave him joy.

He wanted his community to work, to be better for its people, and he put time and treasure behind these efforts. He never forgot the 19 years of government-paid education (12 in JCPS, four on an ROTC scholarship to the University of Louisville and three at Yale Law School under the GI Bill) that opened the world to him and never gave up working to improve education for others. He treasured the leadership lessons he learned in the Navy, the opportunity this gave him to see the world and the friends he made while serving.

If he was a great man, it was because he was a good man first. His passion infused us with joy, and his humor made us laugh. By cherishing each one of us, he inspired us to accept and to love wholeheartedly. By his curiosity, he freed our minds; by his boldness, he instilled in us faith; by his perseverance, we learned courage. By his funny fortitude in the face of death, we understand grace. By his fathomless love for his family, his friends and his community, he fills us with hope.

As his favorite poem concludes, “If there’s another world, he lives in bliss; if there is none, he made the best of this.”

He is survived by his and Betty’s children, David A. Jones Jr. (Mary Gwen Wheeler), Susan Jones, Dan Jones (Lisa), Matt Jones (Nancy) and Carol Jones; grandchildren, Nate, Becky, Sara, Logan, Daniel, Ellie, Katherine, Charlotte, Will, Isaac and Benham; sister, Jean Donoho, and brother, Clarence Jones (Denise); sisters-in-law, Mary Kay Alberg, Barbara Jones and Judy Jones; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Special thanks to David’s caregivers and helpers, including McDonald, Abdel and Kim; to the staff in the Rehabilitation to Home unit of the Nazareth Home in Louisville; and to the nurses, aides, therapists and doctors at and affiliated with Baptist Hospital East, where his multiple myeloma was diagnosed and treated.

Visitation was held on Sept. 23 in the Gheens Foundation Lodge at the Parklands of Floyds Fork.

The funeral service celebrating the life of David Jones will be private. Arrangements under the direction of Pearson’s.

In lieu of flowers, donations to a local charity would be appreciated. David was an enthusiastic supporter of the Parklands of Floyds Fork, of public libraries and of efforts to support and improve education.