Bill Long 2/20/09
On Dec. 26, 2008, less than two weeks after she spent her last day on the bench in Yamhill County (OR), Judge Carol Jones died of cancer, at the youthful age of 53. Though it would be a cliche to say that her "spirit" lives on despite her death, it would not be an inapposite thing to say. Her welcoming smile, blazing intellect, compassionate heart and steady considerateness will always accompany me--and not just as I drive through the romantic and picturesque wine country which surrounds Yamhill County.
Whenever a person of spirit who has significantly crossed my path dies, I want to take more than a moment to celebrate her life and think of how my life is better for having met her. In Carol's and my case, we connected on four important occasions between 2004 and 2008; each of the connections taught me important lessons about law, life and the joy that is ours in the gift of life.
1. We first met in Spring 2004 when she called me out of the blue to ask if I would give a talk to the Yamhill County Bar Association on the Oregon death penalty. Carol was a criminal defense attorney at the time. My book on the subject had come out a few years previously and was well-received; this would give me a chance to speak on it before a legally-trained audience. She not only had read my book but, to my surprise, had read my longer autobiographical essay on this site and poked some appropriate fun at me on that account in introducing me. We immediately connected, as the twin themes of law and humor are not found in everyone....
2. At that event I also met Judge Ron Stone. A few months later, after my book on The Book of Job came out, Ron invited me to come to his home for a memorable evening and a presentation to a "few friends" on the book. Carol, now Judge Carol Jones, was one of the 25 or so people present. After I made a presentation on the book, she wanted to talk with me about certain of the themes I had highlighted--especially those on the interrelationshp of loss and hope. She was buoyant in her new position on the bench; I could tell that she not only relished each day on the job but she also felt that a judge could have a positive impact on the lives of people who entered her courtroom.
3. A short time later I learned through the legal grapevine that Judge Jones was in the Salem Hospital, which happened to be only two blocks away from where I taught at Willamette University College of Law. I hurried to the hospital, where I met her and her husband, David, while she was recovering from surgery. In the quiet space of twenty minutes, we renewed our growing friendship, and spoke in hushed but earnest tones of life in general as well as her life in particular. Her tone and placid demeanor caught me a bit off guard. Yes, she knew she faced a significant time of recovery/healing, but it was almost as if she didn't see her cancer as a subsistent entity. Drawing on a Christian Science background which she said may have shaped her more than she realized, she tended to think of the disease as not really "there," but as more of a challenge to the building of a new life in all its glory and purpose. She was seemingly more interested in my work and my thoughts than she was with her own condition, and I was profoundly moved by her dignity, courage, good humor and placidity.
4. Then, early in 2008, during the last year of her life, she sent me a card. Why? Well, the Oregon State Bar Bulletin had run a nice feature on me, and she was quick to read it and commend me for it. Her note, however brief, was "classic Carol"--it breathed such a sense of gratitude for our meeting, support for my work, and hope that our paths would soon "recross." She didn't speak a word of her situation, and I didn't follow up on the card, other than to send an appreciative email to her in response. One of the thoughts that entered my mind at the time is the power of the "little note," an expression of human kindness that drops on you like a gentle spring rain for freshness.
From everything I have read about Carol since her passing, and from everything told me by her other friends, her "public" self matched her "private" self in every particular. She was a thoughtful and compassionate judge, but did not let her compassion obscure the importance of young people, especially, taking responsibility for their lives in the future. Her death leaves not simply a vacancy on the Yamhill County Circuit Court, but a sort of paradoxical sense of "emptied fulness" in my own life. Certainly the loss at her passing is palpable. But, in a larger sense, her life touched mine in a way that has made me a calmer, more considerate listener and friend. That it might have taken her death to make me think of what she did for me is a sign of the "fulness" I feel even though she is gone. She probably would be delighted to know this...