[Obituary from the Chicago Sun-Times]

R. Kent Jones, engineer, advocate for Esperanto [Title]

February 16, 2004 [Print Date]

BY GARY WISBY Staff Reporter [Author]

R. Kent Jones was Chicago's leading ambassador for Esperanto, a universal language based on the chief European languages.

He was a founding member of the Esperanto Society of Chicago and served several years as its president. He also was chairman of the Education Commission for the Esperanto League of North America.

As Chicago liaison for Esperanto travelers, he was visited by people from at least 20 countries, and his apartment on North Marine Drive was filled with souvenirs they gave him.

Mr. Jones, 77, who had multiple sclerosis, died Feb. 3 from abdominal obstruction at Weiss Memorial Hospital.

He was an engineer for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for 26 years, retiring in 1996.

Before coming to Chicago, Mr. Jones worked for a Texas firm named Convair that designed bomb pods for B-58 bombers. When he learned that his designs could potentially be used for atomic weapons, he left Convair and took a job with Texas Petroleum in Fort Worth.

A year later, the company was sued for a translation error in an instructional booklet published in German. Mr. Jones was assigned to rewrite the booklet to clear up ambiguities that had led to mistranslations.

In his research, he came across Esperanto and became an enthusiastic advocate. He called it "the metric system of languages."

At the time of his death, Mr. Jones was campaigning to change the official language of international aviation from English to Esperanto. He documented dozens of plane crashes that he believed were caused by language errors.

Mr. Jones learned in 1977 that he had multiple sclerosis; five years later, he was in a wheelchair. He was one of the leaders of efforts to force the CTA into making its buses wheelchair-accessible a few years later.

He also adopted the cause of Palestinian political refugees. In the last several years, he sent hundreds of letters to elected officials and protested every Sunday in front of the Water Tower.

Mr. Jones served in the Navy from 1944 to 1949 as an air traffic control technician. He was posted in Hawaii.

"His idea was to tear down the personal and cultural barriers between people," said Stefan Vilcins, a close friend. "He opened up to people. You could meet him just once and feel as if you had known him for a long time."

Mr. Jones was funny and adept at making plays on words, Vilcins said.

He was married and divorced twice. He and his first wife, Pauline, were married from 1947 to 1972 and had eight children, all of whom survive: Dorothy, Margaret, Virginia, Teresa, Michael, Raymond, Charles and Stanley.

He and his second wife, Agnes, were married from 1972 to 1995. Their son, Edgar, and daughter, Sara Su, also survive. Mr. Jones leaves 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial service was Feb. 5.