Photo: Pat Jones, upon receiving the Lewis C. Green Environmental Service award from Great Rivers in 2006 for her longtime commitment to the preservation of the environment.
I was privileged to spend time with Hilda “Pat” Jones over the last fifteen years. Through my work at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, I got to know Pat, as she was passionate about the environment and a supporter of Great Rivers, as well as many other wonderful nonprofits across the region.
In 2004, Pat became active in trying to save the Katy Trail, which she and her late husband Ted had enabled the state to purchase with their generous $2.2 million gift to the state. Governor Matt Blunt received campaign contributions from Union Pacific in 2004, and suddenly ordered the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to surrender the bridge easement rights to Union Pacific. The DNR director then signed away those rights that Ted and Pat had purchased for the people of Missouri. Given the price of steel at the time, this amounted to an unreported windfall gift worth more than $10 million from Governor Blunt to Union Pacific.
Pat became a plaintiff in Great Rivers’ lawsuit against the state of Missouri to save the Katy Trail. Although the court ruled against us, the Katy Trail was saved and is still a huge attraction to people from all across the nation.
More recently, Pat again spoke out trying to preserve bluffs on the Missouri River that are adjacent to the Katy Trail. In her Letter to the Editor, published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on December 16, 2017, she objected to the proposed sale of University of Missouri-owned land near Weldon Spring to a housing developer. She said, “This sale would require rezoning from agricultural to residential, a measure that would destroy the iconic view of the Missouri River and take away the natural experience of the Katy Trail hikers and bicyclists…The influx of homeowners would distract again from the nearby August A. Busch Conservation Area and mar the natural landscape that my late husband, Edward ‘Ted’ Jones Jr., and I worked so hard to retain for future Missourians. It was my understanding that the university teaches good land stewardship. I feel with the sale of this natural area the university no longer practices what it teaches.” Unfortunately the University did not listen to her.
Pat was greatly disappointed in electric utility companies that built transmission lines across the land that her mother had given to the state of Missouri for preservation and enjoyment of future generations. And she was greatly disappointed that Missouri continues to rely on coal for 80% of its energy consumption. She understood the science of climate change and could see how coal is destroying the planet. She promoted hydrogen energy, penning a “Suggestion of Technology that could help meet the Needs of Energy and Water without contributing to Global Warming.” She said, “1. Generate electricity using wind farms placed over salt water. 2. Use this electricity to separate the water into hydrogen, oxygen and salt. 3. Sell the salt as sea salt. 4. Use a pipe line to transport the hydrogen to areas that need electric power. 5. Use fuel cells to generate electricity and water. 6. Sell both water and electric power.”
Often when I visited Pat she would offer me some of a tasty bean and tomato dish that she cooked. The secret, she taught me, was to use the spicy cans of diced tomatoes! Pat had unlimited tolerance of spicy foods. We often discussed walnuts, and recipes for walnut pies. Pat told me stories of her family, such as when she was little, her father would put the family and canoe on the train and they would all ride the train to the Meramec where they would get off and float, and stay at their house in the country. Her grandfather was a Congregational Minister, having had to leave a different faith because of his anti-slavery beliefs. Pat told me she used to beat Ted when they played Monopoly! This made me think maybe she was a big help behind the scenes to Ted in his work.
Missouri has lost a state treasure with the passing of Pat. She did so much to preserve the environment and public health, all the while keeping her hope and sense of humor while observing things get worse in recent years. The world needs more people like Pat, who are not afraid to stand up for clean air, energy and water, and a healthy environment.
Kathleen Henry, President, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center