Over a 37-year span, retired physician Dr. Nelson Jones served generations of people in his family practice. A humble man, he doesn’t like to talk about himself but he did agree recently to sit down with the Sun to share some about his life.
Jones grew up in a country setting outside of Center, Texas, where, unbeknownst to him, another person who would also become a part of the Waxahachie medical community, Dr. John Compton, lived in town.
They both would later attend the University of Texas Medical School at Galveston, where Compton was a year ahead of Jones. There, they became friends and, when Jones set up his practice in Waxahachie, Compton was instrumental in making that happen.
Jones was the son of poor sharecropper parents who had little education. They raised chickens, pigs, cows and had a big garden.
“We were poor but we always had plenty to eat and we were a loving family,” he said. “I can remember riding to town with my dad in a wagon where we traded eggs and vegetables for flour, coffee and other needed supplies.”
The elementary school Jones attended was a one-room building that had all of its classes together, with students divided up into a group on each side. Jones was a smart young man – and completed the fifth and sixth grades in one year before advancing to the seventh grade.
He graduated as valedictorian from Shelbyville High School in 1944.
“I was barely 16 when I finished high school,” he said.
After high school, Jones wanted to go to college – and he remembers his mother telling him there was no money to pay for him to go.
“I had $10 in my pocket when I graduated,” he said, noting there wasn’t any student loan program at the time.
“I told her I was going to college,” he said and, with a small scholarship he received from his high school, he enrolled at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches.
The small scholarship wasn’t enough for all of his expenses so Jones had to work his way through college.
“I went to work for a funeral home working from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m.,” he said. “They provided a small room for me to live in. I attended classes during the day.
“I started out at the funeral home for $35 a month doing janitorial work and grounds keeping. Later, I began answering ambulance calls. As I began receiving more assignments, I got pay raises. I started helping with the embalming process and that is what initially got me interested in the medical profession.
“I stayed at the funeral home until I graduated from college,” he said. “It was considered an apprenticeship position. I took advanced first aid courses and, in addition to the ambulance calls, I instructed police officers and fire fighters in first aid training.”
The funeral home also had a contract with the Veteran’s Administration to transport veterans to VA hospitals for treatment.
“I would drive the veterans in the ambulance to veteran’s hospitals in various cities. Sometimes I would be driving all day long,” he said.
He was 17 and in his second year of college when he and a friend went to New Orleans to test to be a naval air cadet.
“We knew we would be drafted when we reached 18,” he said. “We passed all the tests and because of VE Day (Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945), we barely missed going into active duty in the Navy Air Corps.”
Barely 19 years old, he graduated from college in 1947 in two years and eight months at the top of his class and with a double major in chemistry and mathematics. He went to work at a shipyard in Galveston for three months and was able to set aside $300 in savings for his goal of going to medical school.
“I then got a job at Gulf Oil Corporation as a chemist. I worked there four years,” he said.
Shortly after Jones entered medical school, the Korean War came along.
“They were drafting doctors because there was a shortage but I was given a deferment to finish my degree,” he said. “Once I had my medical degree, I joined the Air Force and served on active duty for three years and as a reservist for seven years.”
During his service, Jones worked one year at William Beaumont Army Hospital in El Paso, which was used as an evacuation hospital.
“Saw lots of unpleasant things,” Jones said, noting that, during one 30-day period, the physicians worked 36 hours on duty followed by 12 hours off-duty.
During his last years in the Air Force, he served as chief of OB/GYN at the Air Force hospital on Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, where he delivered “lots of babies.”
In 1951, Jones married Elizabeth Ann Barton, a school teacher. The 63-year marriage produced one son, Mitch, and two daughters, Jan and Judith.
The daughters followed their father in the medical profession. Jan Jones Stiller received multiple degrees in nursing, including a doctorate, from TCU and TWU. She recently retired as a professor of nursing at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has two children, one of whom is a patent lawyer.
Judith Jones Schaeffer is married to a Dallas police officer and has worked as an RN in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital for 37 years. She has three children: One is an RN and another is studying to be a doctor at UTSW in Dallas.
Prior to leaving the Air Force, Jones took a 10-day leave to search for a city where he wanted to practice medicine in the private setting.
“I knew I wanted to practice in a small Texas town that was near a large city,” he said. “I came to Waxahachie and called Dr. Compton who already had his practice here and he told me he was the only young doctor here and had more patients than he could cover. That was 1958 and I settled here because of him.”
Jones became a general practitioner in 1958 after becoming board certified. He went into practice with Dr. B.C. Wallace. Together, they built their office building across from the W.C. Tenery Hospital on West Jefferson.
“Dr. Wallace had a heart attack and died,” Jones said. “I then brought in Dr. David Williams, Dr. Richard Redington and Dr. James Pickens. Dr. Pickens took over my practice many years later when I retired in 1992. I chose him because he was a lot like me.”
As general practitioners, there was much expected for them to know.
“We handled 95 percent of everything,” Jones said. “We had to take reexamination tests every six or seven years. We had to keep certifications in medical practices of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, surgery, psychiatry and mental health.
“We were specialists in everything,” he said with a smile.
Jones lost his beloved wife to Alzheimer’s in October 2014.
“I cared for her in our home for seven years but the last two years she was in a memory unit,” he said.
Jones has left his wife’s collections just as they were when she was alive. He proudly shows visitors her collection of ceramic cats and the vintage Vaseline dishes that glow green. Her paintings are displayed as a gallery on the walls of the hallway.
Jones remains active. He had very little time to volunteer while he had his practice but, since retirement, he has served on the Waxahachie Foundation board of directors, spoken to students in the Waxahachie Independent School District about substance abuse and is active in his church. He also attended the recent Memorial Day service at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Ceremony.
He takes care of himself, with his only concern being the failing eyesight that’s caused by macular degeneration.
Thousands of Ellis County residents came to know and love him through his several decades of service to the community. As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story” about the man behind the stethoscope, one who rose from humble beginnings to that of a pillar in the community.