'Mac' Jones brought Shakespeare to life

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | 7:22 p.m. CDT; updated 11:29 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Professor William 'Mac' Jones speaks at his home in a file photo from 1984. A model of London's Globe Theatre, associated with Jones' passion, Shakespeare, sits on the table.

COLUMBIA — In a Shakespeare lecture full of hundreds of students, Susan Leddick's professor, William "Mac" Jones, once climbed ungracefully over chairs and desks just to shake the hand of her then-fiance, Jack, who was in town for a visit.

“Jack talked about that for years,” said Leddick, now president of a consulting firm in Bozeman, Mont.

Jones was an English professor at MU for 30 years before he retired in 1989.

"He loved his content and was tremendously knowledgeable — just everything you could hope for in a big public university to make education a personal experience for people," Leddick said. "He knew your name, something about you, what you were interested in."

Mac Jones and his wife of almost 60 years, Ruth Ann Jones, were found dead in their home Thursday morning. Carbon monoxide poisoning is being investigated. No foul play is suspected, Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said Wednesday.

Mac Jones came to MU in 1959. He taught courses such as "English Life and Literature" and "Major Ideas in Western Literature" and authored several books. Thousands of students knew him as their Shakespeare professor.

Ruth Ann Jones taught piano out of their home and played cello in several Columbia orchestras. During the early 1990s, she was an adjunct faculty member in the History Department at Columbia College and also taught at Westminster College in Fulton.

Betsy Rall was a student of Mac Jones' at MU and attended First Presbyterian Church with the couple. Both Joneses were active at the church, and a memorial service for them will be held there at 11 a.m. Saturday.

"They made a great team," Rall, former principal at Parkade Elementary School, said. "He was the obvious, outgoing humorist, and she was the stabilizing influence."

'Terrifically interested' in Shakespeare

Jones’ proclivity to act out Shakespeare's plays in lecture made class fun, Leddick said, remembering his “gangly impersonations of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet or Bottom's braying in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'"

“It was just great fun because he was able to really enliven all the characters,” Leddick said. “He was always terrifically interested in the personalities and quirks of the characters in Shakespeare’s plays.”

Wally Pfeffer, who took a Shakespeare class with Jones in the spring of 1989, said Jones had an easy-going approach.

“And he was patient with us when we were struggling with a passage," said Pfeffer, an insurance agent in Columbia. "He would help us see through the language to the underlying meaning. I don’t remember him ever raising his voice to us.”

But Pfeffer recalled one time this wasn’t the case.

“I said something in class and he must’ve thought it was pretty inane, and he almost put me down for it. It was really out of character for him,” he said.

However, promptly the next day, Jones brought Pfeffer one of his books and signed it with a note, saying that he was sorry about what had happened and that he enjoyed having Pfeffer in the class.

“That’s the way he was," Pfeffer said. "He was good about correcting things immediately. I respected that in him.”

'The kind of person you kept up with'

George Purdy is a Columbia native who graduated from Hickman and MU. Although Jones and Purdy had known each other from around town while Purdy was a boy, they became friends after Jones spoke at Hickman. Purdy was a student there at the time.

“He was the kind of person that you kept up with,” said Purdy, now an attorney in Seattle. “Even though I graduated 40 years ago, when I would come to town he would make an effort to make time to see me if he could.”

On these occasions, the two shared tea and occasionally some of Jones’ homemade bread and caught up with one another.

“I saw him as a counselor and adviser, but without thinking of it in those terms,” Purdy said. “I can just see him reaching out his hand with a big smile, happy to see you, inquiring about what you are up to.”

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