South Charlotte

His footnote in history will be signed

As personal histories go, Ray Jones has embraced an interesting methodology.

The twists and turns of his life have been chronicled through a collection of autographs from politicians, athletes, celebrities and just about anyone else he's encountered whom he deems interesting.

As a journalist and public relations specialist with plenty of opportunities to meet notable people, each autograph sparks a recollection and a story.

Growing up in New Hope, Pa., Jones started as a casual collector of autographed photos and memorabilia. Others first realized the extent of his collection when he brought it to his church's Hobby Night. As Jones added to his collection, he realized this might be an interesting way to look back at his life.

Today his collection, housed at his public relations office at Carolinas Healthcare System, numbers more than 300 autographs. The most visible aspect of the collection is the two bookcases filled with framed, autographed photos.

The 62-year-old Jones, who lives in Cotswold with his wife, Janet, has enjoyed a memorable professional career. After graduating from Dickinson College, he worked in the newspaper business at the Carlisle Evening Sentinel and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association.

Jones' public-relations stints were at Monmouth University, Dickinson College, Winthrop University, William Jewell College and now CHS. His beloved collection follows him from job to job.

"The thing I loved about my career in journalism was I got to meet so many people. I wanted to see what they were like in real life," said Jones.

Jones has made an art of the way he obtains his autographs, and he has his own set of rules. He collects autographs only from people he comes in contact with, and he tries never to pay for a signature.

The one exception is Gaylord Perry, whose signed picture he purchased on the Internet. Jones wanted it because the picture shows Perry wearing a baseball jersey sporting the logos of all the teams he ever played for - a bit of information one might need to know down the road.

Jones said he tries to be respectful and never forces anyone to give an autograph, but he isn't shy. Obtaining the signature is a personal challenge, he said.

One particular challenge was getting the autograph of President Ronald Reagan. When the president visited Dickinson College, Jones accompanied him to a private meeting with the brothers of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Reagan was a TKE at Eureka College.

Jones later sent a photo to the White House with a signature request, but the photo was returned unsigned. Undaunted, Jones went to the Dickinson TKE house and asked for some fraternity stationery. Figuring a reference to Reagan's beloved fraternity might sway him, Jones submitted his request again. That photo came back from the White House with the president's signature.

Unfortunately, Jones' hobby may be running its course. With the advent of eBay, autographs have become currency, and getting them personally is nearly impossible as celebrities travel with bodyguards and entourages.

"You couldn't get near Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber today," Jones said.

But a smile quickly comes back to his face as he recalls yet another story, the one about how he got Carl Bernstein's autograph.

"It was a wonderful world," said Jones.