Islander Profile: Phil and Jinny Jones

by Jane Winer

Sycamore Islander, April 2002

When Phil & Jinny Jones joined Sycamore Island Club in 1961, they had no idea what they were getting into. Phil followed the lead of his longtime friend John Thomson and joined because John had figured out that a canoe was the answer to the problem of getting to work while finessing the jam over Chain Bridge. (This was before the Beltway existed.) Imagine the glee with which the idea was hatched and shared among John Thomson, Phil Jones and John Heidemann. The paddlers would commute by car as far as parking to access the Island and from there the chore would turn into an adventure. Working for the Agency and commuting by canoe: Shades of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons— for grown-ups!

Jinny and Phil Jones at home in Bethesda.
Sycamore Island Club seemed to be a sleepy place with a lot of old members, so the commuters didn't even join at first but borrowed a canoe with the blessing of the Caretaker. Eventually, however, word came down that if they wanted to continue the practice, they must join the Club--so they did--without benefit of a Waiting List. They did, indeed, have many adventures, and one that Phil relishes in retelling is the time the river was well on its way to freezing over by late afternoon. This made Phil very anxious but John Thomson reminded him he had stowed a "secret weapon" in the canoe to get them all back to the Island. The weapon turned out to be an ice axe, and it did the job.

Phil delights in his beautiful euphonium.
Phil and Jinny currently enjoy Honorary Membership in the Club, and no longer attend meetings regularly. Phil belongs to 3 or 4 bands or musical groups and plays the piano, organ, harpsichord and euphonium. The organ and harpsichord share a room, one of several music rooms in the house. In between demonstrating his skill on the keyboards, Phil played the euphonium for us as well. If you've never heard one played, it is a jolly instrument, half the length of a tuba, with a mellower tone. Phil told us that all four of their children are musical and have their own CD's on the market—with their own music—and he not a one, but his smile of pride and delight showed just how much he cared about that!

Ten years ago, when David and I began going to Island meetings, Phil was usually in attendance. I remember that when Phil had something to say, people listened. He was, after all, Treasurer of the organization. Peter Jones, the oldest son, told me that he only began to realize and appreciate the level of his father's involvement in the Club when he--Peter--became Caretaker. "It was impressive," he says, thinking about his Dad's service as Club Treasurer "for the umpteenth year." Peter recalls how his Dad liked paddling up to Lock 8 by way of the canal, putting into the river, and riding back down. Once, the trip combined with fishing in an original way--Peter was paddling bow through rapids and Phil, astern, was distracted when a fish jumped into the boat. Phil managed to corral the fish in the boat with a cushion while they kept on paddling back to the Island--with fish for dinner.

Jinny enjoys the garden: camellias are among her favorites.
Peter remembers that Jinny became an officer in the Club about the time that he became Caretaker. Jinny is an accomplished "Puzzler" (as in winning word contests conducted by Master Puzzler Will Shortz) and a whiz with computers. When it was time to bring Island business practices up-to-date, Jinny became Financial Secretary. But she had also logged in many years as Entertainment Committee chair. When the family joined, she was in charge of four children--all under the age of 10--and she found others on the Island eager to join forces to plan and execute entertainments for the kids. One year they organized an Easter egg hunt so the Moms blew eggs endlessly, it seemed, and dyed them—then stuck them on twigs all over the Island. One time was enough for this particular undertaking! Jinny reminds us of the role the steps to the Island once played. They ran straight down the hill--between MacArthur Boulevard (there was no Parkway then) and the canal, an intense hike, up or down, and no switchbacks to help keep the cool acquired from a dip in the river in summertime. You were hot again when you reached the top. Of course, if you had gotten chilled on the Island on a cold day, well, you were certainly toasty by the time you got back to the top of those endless steps.

Phil rescued this pipe organ from a garage.
Restored now, it’s a featured part of their music room.
Once I asked Peter Jones about his interest in birds and flowers. I assumed that he had acquired his knowledge while "growing up" with his family on the Island. I was wrong. Peter told me he started to take an interest in nature when he became Caretaker—when his Dad gave him a pair of binoculars. Isn’t that just like a musician to know when to strike a note—the right one at the right moment?