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    As told to Josh Moss

    Betty Jones died Aug. 16 at age 86, and her husband, Humana co-founder David Jones Sr., died a month later on Sept. 18 at age 88. Three of their five children — David Jr., Dan and Carol — shared stories about their parents.
     

    David Jr.: “There was a rocking chair in the living room, and I have a distinct memory of Mom reading to me. There was a book called Perri about a squirrel. Reading was a fact of life in the house from the very beginning.”

    Dan: “One of the first books she ever read to me was Peter Rabbit. I still have that whole set of Beatrix Potter books sitting on my bookshelf in my room in their house off Brownsboro Road. That’s one of the things I’m keeping as I clean it out.”

    Carol: “I was always throwing a football with my dad.”

    Dan: “I wanted to be a receiver, so he’d throw me these long passes and I’d make these diving catches.
       “My dad was a boxer when he was young, and he had these very powerful wrists and forearms. Whenever we would get splinters, he would dig them out with a needle — these big hands holding this tiny needle. And then he would apply this old-fashioned antibacterial. It wasn’t a gentle process.”

    Carol: “I was really, really young when my dad taught me to shoot craps.”

    Dan: “My parents didn’t have much money in those early days, and he just bought a set of those old electric barber clippers. He didn’t quite shave our heads, but he would just — we looked OK.”

    David Jr.: “I came to see the foundation of my dad’s character as gratitude. And the biggest source of his own gratitude was that this amazing, beautiful woman with two college-educated parents from Crescent Hill who he met at U of L, she crossed the railroad tracks to the other side of town (in west Louisville) and chose him.”

    Carol: “They were in a couples book club and met approximately every six weeks for 30 years. It’s still going. The conversations around the house were always — just huge vocabulary being thrown around.”

    Dan: “Every morning they’d be sitting around the breakfast table reading the Courier-Journal, the New York Times. And my dad always read the Wall Street Journal. They kept the papers stacked for a week under this little table.”

    Carol: “My dad would whistle when he got home from work, and my mom would go meet him and kiss him hello and he’d put his keys in the basket.”

    Dan: “When sporting events were on, particularly like U of L basketball, U of L football, they would watch together, even though my mom was not a big sports fan.”

    Carol: “My dad wanted to watch football, and so my mom would sit in there and knit or read a book. My dad would say, ‘Well, Mom really wants to watch the game tonight.’ You might hear her in the background: ‘Oh, Dave.’
       “If I argued with one of them, the other one was backing them up, no question about that. They had their conversations behind closed doors and came and presented a united front. And I knew that they were a backstop. They would never call each other out on anything publicly, even in front of us. If they disagreed, that was going to be private.”

    Dan: “He was in the Navy when they got married, then went to sea. Then they left so he could attend Yale Law School — just a completely different group of people than they grew up with. They came back and had five kids, and then my dad went through this, you know, sort of incredible transformation from a smart but poor kid into a very wealthy and successful business person.”

    David Jr.: “No matter how successful her husband became, Mom was still going to be her own person. She was not going to be limited to being a corporate spouse.
       “One of the great things about the business success was that they were able to travel together. They also lived apart internationally. My mom went back to get her master’s in French. One time she was in France, so he went to Berlin for six weeks and worked on his German. They kept themselves sharp individually.”

    Carol: “Their choice of movies would appall me, but they would sometimes go up to New York just for the weekend to see French movies or foreign films that didn’t come to Louisville.”

    Dan: “The Uptown Cafe on Bardstown Road was a favorite. They loved their life out in the East End, but I think they always felt rooted in the Highlands because that was where all their kids were born, and they lived a good chunk of their early marriage there.”

    Carol: “Pat’s Steakhouse was one of their all-time favorites.”

    David Jr.: “In July of this year, on their 65th wedding anniversary, they were talking and singing to each other. We were in Dad’s room at the Nazareth Home over by Bellarmine. My parents told us they had agreed when they got married that they would never go to sleep without resolving whatever dispute they were having. They said they never actually stayed up all night but came pretty close a couple times.
       “I don’t remember exactly what we sang. Dad probably sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ a little bit. He always said, ‘In the Baptist church, you were encouraged to make a joyful noise.’ And he made joyful noise, even if it wasn’t always clear that it was in the same key as everybody else.”

    Carol: “My mom could follow a tune and had a pretty voice, but he was a horrible singer. To hear them singing together was hilarious. She would chuckle but would never call him out. But he knew so many lyrics. My dad sang ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’; we liked to listen to John Denver together. He’d sing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ show tunes, songs from the 1940s during the war.”

    Dan: “I’ve gotten a zillion notes about them and one of the repetitive themes is that when they were together, they were always holding hands.”

    Carol: “Holding hands at church, at the theater, out for a walk.”

    Dan: “At the very end of their lives, my dad’s sitting in a wheelchair next to my mom’s bed holding her hand.”

    Carol: “Toward the end, my dad did say something like, ‘You know, I don’t know what’s coming after this, but I think I’ve made the best opportunity of this life.’”

    Dan: “Eight days before my mom died she was on the phone with one of her oldest friends, from my dad’s days in the Navy. My dad and I were sitting there and we couldn’t get her off the phone.
       “My dad had a sense of humor up to the end. There was this real friendly physical therapist at Nazareth who would always sing him this little song every morning. And he started reciting this poem about a purple cow, which was something that (our parents) used to recite to us. That was 48 hours before he died.”

    Carol: “Their friends who we saw at the funeral were their same friends I saw growing up. I know those people’s children and their children’s children.”

    David Jr.: “I’ve gotten some wonderful notes from people. Several have just said, ‘It’s a love story.’ Maybe I’ll look back on it that way, but I’m still just working through that they’re gone.” 

    Carol: “An experience that I’ve had recently was: I was watching my son play basketball out at Kentucky Country Day. We all graduated from KCD, and then I coached there like 20 years ago and I’m coaching there again. I looked across at the stands and my parents weren’t there. They watched games in that gym for 40 years; then they’re not there.
       “It is shocking that suddenly they’re both gone so close together. They didn’t have to be apart very long, and that’s a good thing because neither of them wanted to be apart. They always wanted to be together. I guess the way I think about that is: They did things together.”

     

    This originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine.Read 2019 from A to Z.

    To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover photo: David and Betty Jones in Louisville in the early 1950s.

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