MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Wilson Richard Jones was 83. Anybody who knew him called him Dick or Butch. I called him Mister Jones in the beginning, because it was 1982 and ‘83, I was 23 and the man had just given me a job.

Dick’s preferred name, of course, was never “Mister Jones,” and that I started off on the wrong foot by calling him “Mister Jones” (ticked) him off until he finally told me that if I ever called him “Mister” anything again, the consequences would be dire.

Thus, since I did not know Mister Jones well enough to call him Butch, I called him Dick.

Dick was 83 when he died last Sunday, but though I have not seen him in 40 years, and though we were never anywhere near to being close, he was one of those people I never thought of being 83 because I didn’t think of him as being 43 when I knew him (when you’re 23, you think 43 is old), because Dick had such a true spirit for life; and you could see that spirit in his eyes.

Dick was a D.C. guy, born there; grew up in Cheverly and graduated from Bladensburg High School in 1957. I met him in 1982 when I was looking for a job, and Bill Lindner, one of Dick’s salesmen, his warehouse manager and right-hand man at Conaway Inc. in Laurel, and one of the best friends anybody could ever have, set up the meeting because Bill, who is from Cumberland, knew I needed a job and that there “might” be an opening in the warehouse.

Dick was adventurous and ornery and more. He loved action and was subtle as a dump truck. This will be your job, this is what you will do and I’ll pay you “five bucks an hour for 35 hours a week.”

Keep in mind the minimum wage at the time was about $3.75 or so. I needed the work.

Dick was in charge of the warehouse and sales of Conaway in Maryland, and what we did was provide power equipment to retailers in the state of Maryland, in D.C., Virginia and West Virginia — McCulloch chainsaws, Stihl, Flowtron log splitters, Honda engines, lawnmowers of all brands (even those without wheels), kerosene and electric heaters, Ransome-Bobcat and all kinds of other things that I can no longer remember because I can no longer find the blue Conaway binder that Bill gave me to take home to study.

I didn’t know anything about any of that then; I know even less about it now. And Dick knew that. Bill knew that; but Dick hired me because Bill asked him to hire me. And, thankfully, he did.

I always looked at Dick as being a cowboy. He was the boss; he was in charge of the entire operation. He was a self-made Everyman, but there was nothing common about him.

He was often frustrated with me, with good reason. Yet he put up with my ineptitude and kept me employed at what was the most pivotal period of my life.

I was referred to as “the (bleeping) clerk.” I answered the phone. I took messages. I made appointments. I took orders from retailers. I typed invoices and I helped unload and store deliveries and did inventory in the warehouse.

I was Bob Cratchit until Bill taught me how to successfully operate a forklift (seriously) and unload trucks when I was the only one in the warehouse.

When nothing was happening in the warehouse Dick would allow me to take runs in the industrial park on Route 1; and he allowed me to make calls, do interviews and write stories, as I was also a stringer, covering sports, for Dave Ginsburg and the Prince George’s Sentinel at the time.

Dick also allowed me to apply for jobs and to make phone calls, write resumes and letters on the brand-new electric typewriter that was in the office (a big deal since I was used to working on a portable Smith Corona Classic).

In turn, I never would have been hired or worked for over 35 years at the Cumberland Times-News if not for Dick Jones – or Wilson, as we called him behind his back. And the thing is, Dick had likely never heard of the Cumberland Times-News until he left Conaway in 1985 and moved to Purgitsville, West Virginia.

Yet Dick gave me the time and the freedom to pursue what turned out to be the most important job I ever had, and to live the most important period of my life. He understood I didn’t know what I was doing at Conaway. I did my best, but I don’t know anything about power equipment to this day, and Dick knew this. Apparently, though, even as Dick would shake his head a lot after we would talk, I was capable enough, and I was Bill’s friend, and Dick knew I wanted something else in life.

Kind of a backhanded compliment? Not at all. Dick tolerated me, but he provided me with a way station in life and I remain grateful for that. I am forever grateful to Bill Lindner, and I will always be grateful to Dick Jones. He was such a fun person to be around.

Dick loved figuring out how to make everything work. He was a small-engine mechanic by nature, and I admired him so much because he could make anything work, and I couldn’t even figure out how to make the air conditioner in my car work … or not work (ask Bill Lindner!).

Dick and his late wife of 48 years, Diane, founded Mill Creek Saw Shop in Burlington, West Virginia in 1985 and ran it with their son Rod. It was about then that I would begin receiving calls from Bill Lindner telling me about calls he received from Dick, with Dick saying, “Mike doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” or “Mike was really giving them hell today in the newspaper.”

He read my stories and my columns and that means the world to me, because I wouldn’t have written a single one of them had Dick Jones not given me the opportunity to do so during that splendid time of 1982 and 1983.

Dick is also survived by his son Randall and his six grandchildren.

And who knows how many other blokes like me who have been able to live their dreams because Dick Jones gave us the opportunity to try?

Mike Burke, former clerk for Conaway Inc. in Laurel, writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT