Sprinkled throughout my inbox are emails from people whose lives were profoundly touched by Harry Jones. They were each suffering from cancer, most with pancreatic cancer. After reading a column I wrote two years ago about how Harry’s cancer had transformed his approach to life, they asked me to connect them to him. I did, and Harry called every one of them and helped coach them through their ordeals.
Harry lost his own determined fight with pancreatic cancer this week. I wanted to write a tribute to him, then realized that that column from April 2015 captures Harry’s remarkable journey as well as anything I could write today. Here it is:
Never miss a local story.
As recently as two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine Harry Jones, then the Mecklenburg County manager, telling me or his other critics, “May God’s blessings pour down on you like water from a mighty stream.”
But this week he did just that. The story of how he went from not speaking to me to wishing God’s blessings upon me is one of a remarkable physical and spiritual journey. Jones tells that inspiring story in a new book, “How Cancer Cured My Soul.”
The self-published book, he says in the introduction, is “about learning to live in the moment, appreciating the time you get to spend with your family and loved ones, appreciating all the beauty that surrounds, forgiving those who have offended you, and recognizing that every moment of life is a gift to be treasured and shared.”
That he is alive to write the book is a gift in itself.
On Dec. 22, 2011, Jones was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Surgery was not an option. The five-year survival rate under such conditions: 1 percent. Jones’s diagnosis was 40 months ago and at age 65 1/2 (as he puts it), he has never felt better.
He credits his doctors, but mostly he credits his faith in God, which began to strengthen two days after the diagnosis. Until then, he had been a “faith liar,” he says.
“I grew up in churches but I wasn’t praying regularly, I wasn’t going to church regularly. On Sunday mornings I was on the golf course,” he told me this week. “I just wasn’t praising Him enough. I was a faith liar. I could (recite scriptures) but I wasn’t doing the other things I needed to further enhance my spirituality.
“Now there is not a morning that I get up that I don’t say my prayers and thank God for keeping me during the night and waking me in the morning and setting me on my way.”
Today Jones spends much of his time ministering to others who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He says the disease has taken 22 people who had come into his life since he was diagnosed. He regularly meets with and calls people suffering with pancreatic cancer to try to give them a boost.
“Just to be able to minister to them, I get emotionally choked up. It’s the most important thing I’ve done in my life. It’s curative,” he said.
“The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is one of the best things that has ever happened to me because it taught me, finally, how to live ... and give.”
I’ve known Jones for close to 20 years, first covering him in 1996 as the Mecklenburg County beat reporter for the Observer when he was an assistant county manager. Years later, the Observer editorial board and I criticized Jones multiple times for various actions and inaction as county manager. On Feb. 17, 2011, we said in an editorial it was time for him to go. About two years later, commissioners voted to fire him.
Jones was offended, and for a time stopped talking to me. But when I reached out this week to ask about his book and his life, he didn’t hesitate to embrace my call.
“I just feel brand new. I feel whole and complete and have a different perspective on life. I could have said, ‘Taylor Batten, you wrote nasty things about me and I don’t want to talk to you.’ But I’m forgiving. I love you as much as the next person. That’s how I look at life. I don’t have any animosity. My life now is bigger than my life has ever been.”
Jones’s physical healing is stunning, and his new perspective on life instructive. May God’s blessings pour down on you, Harry.