Ross Jones has been around Johns Hopkins in one role or another for most of the last half-century.
It's pretty darned hard to keep him out of the loop on anything that's really important.
But three university trustees managed to completely blindside him. They raised more than $2 million to name a wing of Homewood's planned new student arts center in Jones' honor.
And the retiring vice president and secretary of the university never suspected a thing until the gift was announced at a trustee dinner in his honor this month.
"It's very hard to believe," an emotional Jones told the trustees. "I thank you for this tremendous tribute, and one that goes on forever. I'm deeply touched." Later on, he joked about the conspiracy of silence. "I got caught [by surprise]. And this is tough for someone who has always he thought he knew everything that was going on."
The ringleaders were trustees R. Champlin Sheridan '52, Andrew J. Bozzelli '53 and Wendell A. Smith '54, a classmate and two fraternity brothers of Jones during his undergraduate years who have remained close to him ever since. It was their idea to create a fund in Jones' honor, and it was they who sent a letter inviting contributions. Nearly 100 people responded, primarily trustees, but also all five living Johns Hopkins presidents, Hopkins colleagues and others closely associated with Jones and the university. The more than $2 million raised came in pledges ranging from $100 to well into six figures.
"We wanted to recognize both an extraordinary personal friendship and his long, distinguished association with Hopkins," Bozzelli said. "We're longtime friends who wanted to do it; that's all."
Bozzelli said that one trustee to whom he talked agreed almost immediately to make a major lead gift. Another who offered a very significant pledge told Bozzelli it was the easiest decision he and his family had ever made.
Robert R. Lindgren, the university's vice president for development and alumni relations and a professional fund-raiser for nearly two decades, said he had never before seen such a tribute to an individual. He said he had told Bozzelli, Sheridan and Smith he thought it would be a great challenge to meet even their original goal of $1 million.
"To raise this kind of money in someone's honor is absolutely remarkable," Lindgren said.
The gift will help make a long-planned student arts center a reality. Construction of the $17 million center, at the eastern edge of the Homewood campus along Charles Street near 33rd Street, is expected to begin this fall. A total of $14.5 million has been raised.
The easternmost of the center's three connected buildings will be named in Jones' honor. That building will include offices for student groups and publications, practice rooms for student musicians and space for the visual arts. Other wings of the center will house performance space and other facilities for performing arts and for students working with electronic media.
Sheridan said that a building that will enhance undergraduate student life was "a natural" choice for honoring Jones because of his close association with students and his dedication over the years to their well-being.
"When we started looking at naming opportunities, a building in the arts center flashed out like a beacon," Smith said.
Jones, a 1953 graduate of Hopkins who returned to the university in 1961 as assistant to President Milton S. Eisenhower, has been a close aide to six of the university's 13 presidents. As secretary of the board of trustees, he has worked with five board chairmen. At various times, he has headed the university's communications, fund-raising and alumni relations programs and supervised operations in the office of the president.
Gifts to the fund in Jones' honor are counted toward the Johns Hopkins Initiative, the fund-raising campaign for The Johns Hopkins Institutions. The campaign passed its initial goal of $900 million two years early, and the university's trustees voted last month to raise the target to $1.2 billion.