This week, I had the opportunity to travel to Olympia with my husband and 90-year old mother-in-law. We had an invitation to the State Capitol for a yearly memorial service honoring all the legislators who died in 2014. One of those was my father-in-law, Senator John D. Jones, who served for 13 years, first as a State Representative and then as a Senator. He loved this chapter of his life. He was a humble public servant, honored to represent the people of Bellevue, Washington, leaving his job at the phone company for a couple of months every year to work on their behalf. He loved developing relationships with all kinds of people and the schmoozing, negotiating and banter that helped maintain them. It was said of him that he couldn’t go five minutes anywhere in Bellevue without finding someone he knew to talk with. He cared deeply about issues and was someone who knew how to “cross the political aisle” to get things done by working in a bipartisan manner. I miss him terribly, miss his presence in my life and the life of my family, miss his lifelong commitment to work for the common good.
When I think of his early years, his birth in the corner of a kitchen in the Welsh mining village of Blaenau Ffestiniog to a woman whose husband had moved to Michigan in search of a better life and could not yet send for her. How he fought for his life, how he loved Wales even after moving to Michigan with his mother and sister, how he kept the language alive and inculcated in his children the love of the villages, the people and the topography of his birthplace. Through high school and in college, then serving in the Army in Italy and Tunisia, then his career at the phone company and as a legislator, he embodied global citizenship. He used to joke that the only reason he wasn’t President of the United States was because he was born in Wales. He hosted a Welsh choir, kept in touch with Welsh cousins, would talk about Wales to anyone who would listen. He was so persuasive that we took our sons on a journey to learn about their Welsh roots and meet all the relatives, a highlight of our own family travels.
When he had the chance to travel later in life, he made the most of it, from legislative junkets in Asia and Eastern Europe to family trips around the US and Europe. Everywhere he went, he loved meeting people and learning about their lives. I am struck by the impact of these excursions as I talk to my mother-in-law: those travels are the things that stand out for her when she looks back on her life. She remembers how the sights, the foods, and other ways of life influenced her, even in simple things such as how she decorated her home, the gourmet international dinners she served, and service work she became involved in.
Is there something about travel that inspires public service? How does being born in one place and living somewhere else influence a person? I like to think that my father-in-law’s perspective as an immigrant who so appreciated the opportunity to leave a community of slate miners with short life spans to make a life as a phone company manager and State Legislator shaped his dedication to public service and to people. As I watched the ceremony unfold — a bell rung, a rose placed in a vase, a candle lit for each deceased legislator; clergy from three different traditions; and beautiful live music — I felt proud to know this man who believed in working for the common good. It was a fitting tribute and he would have loved it. May it inspire not only me, but all who work for good, who use travel and living in different cultures to shape our perspective and inspire the lives of those around us in the way he did.