WALLA WALLA — Gerwyn Jones was one of the first people I met upon moving to Walla Walla and taking a sports writing job at the Union-Bulletin in 1968.
Gerwyn’s insurance office was just up the street, I needed car insurance and our relationship was formed.
Little did I know then how our lives would in so many ways be intertwined in the years ahead. But looking back, it was hardly a surprise.
Gerwyn, who died early Friday morning at the ripe old age of 99, loved baseball as much as I do, probably more. And his involvement in youth baseball programs in the valley — he is the father of Little League baseball here — landed us in the same places at the same times on many, many occasions.
One of my earliest recollections of Jonesy, as he was often referred to by his peers, was in the summer of ’69 at Borleske Stadium. I was there covering a Colt League baseball tournament, and Walla Walla must have done well considering all of the excitement I can still remember.
And as I headed for the gate, trying in my mind to formulate my lead, Gerwyn grabbed me by the arm.
"This is what your headline should say," he said, offering a grandiose suggestion and extending his arms at the same time to further suggest the size of the headline.
And being young and still somewhat inexperienced, I passed on Gerwyn’s suggestion to my boss, sports editor Jim Reding, as soon as I got back to the office.
"You can tell that #z*x#z*#x*z Jones that we write the #z*x#z*#x*z headlines at the Union-Bulletin," Reding fumed, his cheeks puffed and his face crimson.
That’s the day that I learned that along with all of Gerwyn’s good and enduring qualities, he also had this way of rubbing some people the wrong way. My boss was obviously one of them.
Over the years, I came to realize that Gerwyn’s strength was also his occasional undoing. Because he was strictly old school. He believed that the best way to get a job done was to do it yourself.
Even if he stepped on some toes or ruffled some feathers doing it.
Many of those who worked with Gerwyn over the years in his other endeavor of love — the Walla Walla Valley Historical Society — can vouch for that.
But I am here to say that without Gerwyn’s irascible, stubborn, determined personality, there are many things in this valley that we enjoy today — maybe even take for granted — that would not be here if not for him and others like him.
It was also in the summer of 1969 that Gerwyn coerced me and a good friend of mine, Gary Fisher, into coaching the Frontier Machinery Pony League baseball team. Little did we know that when we accepted this opportunity, we were also taking on all of the grounds keeping duties for a team that played its home games at Lowden School 15 miles west of town.
Long before we ever held our first practice, Gary and I spent days chopping down weeds, propping up a rickety outfield fence, cutting out base paths and mowing the infield and the outfield. And on top of that, we inherited a team of farm boys who turned out to be very good baseball players but were also responsible for bucking bales, roguing wheat and anything else their fathers decided needed to be done.
When we got them all together, it was a pretty darned good team. But all too often we wound up forfeiting games when we couldn’t field a team. Farm chores came first.
I’m sure Gerwyn got quite a chuckle out of our travails. But there was Pony League baseball for kids in the Lowden-Touchet area, and that’s what was important to him.
My second year of coaching the team, there was a dispute over a player who wanted to be released from the Frontier Machinery team in order to play for a team in town.
Gerwyn was against it. He said that if I released the player, who happened to be a very good player, the team he joined would be such a powerhouse that it would win the league championship hands down.
Still being young and somewhat inexperienced, I followed Gerwyn’s advice. And the next thing I knew, the boy’s father was in my office threatening legal action if I didn’t release his son and allow him to play in town.
After a long discussion with Gerwyn, I convinced him that it would be better for all concerned — me in particular — to release the player. I did, and as Gerwyn predicted the player’s new team dominated the league.
Most of my contacts with Gerwyn in more recent years have come through my wife Margaret and the Historical Society. Margaret has been a board member for the organization for many years and has worked hand-in-hand with Gerwyn on numerous projects.
Like everyone else, there were times when she was infuriated by Gerwyn’s control tactics. But she never lost sight of his good intentions and supported him to the end.
Gerwyn spent the last few years at the Odd Fellows Home, and Margaret visited him every Sunday when she was in town. He became a father figure to her, and I know she’ll miss him.
All of Walla Walla will miss Gerwyn Jones.