Bill Jones: One of Eagle’s larger-than-life characters
EAGLE — One of the hallmarks of life in a small town is that the community is inevitably populated with a handful of larger-than-life personalities.
In Eagle, Judge Jones was one of those people.
William L. “Bill” Jones passed away this past week at age 84. He had resided in Eagle for 40 years and served as Eagle County District Court judge for 20 of them. While his courtroom influence was considerable, many community members remember him more vividly as a volunteer firefighter, avid outdoorsman, automotive enthusiast or a pal from the Brush Creek Saloon. He was also a dedicated father and doting grandfather.
“I would say he had a pretty good 84 years of life. He did a lot and he really enjoyed being around people,” said Margaret Jones, his wife of 53 years.
On July 27, 1933, Judge Jones was born, on his parents’ kitchen table, in Idaho Springs. He came from Colorado pioneer stock. His mother was born in Silver Plume during the state’s gold rush and Judge Jones’ father was also an attorney.
He was one of five children. As a youth growing up in Idaho Springs, he earned his Eagle Scout honors, worked for the U.S. Forest Service and Loveland ski area and graduated from high school in 1951.
Margaret can’t really remember a time when she didn’t know Bill. They grew up in the same rural mountain company and their families were acquainted. Her father was a county commissioner, and Bill’s father was an attorney for the Union Pacific railroad who later opened a private law practice. Both Bill and Margaret graduated from Idaho Springs High School, now Clear Creek High School, a few years apart. But it wasn’t until after Bill had graduated from both the University of Colorado and CU Law School that the two started dating.
Judge Jones was drafted shortly after he finished law school, and he served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocated General offices in Washington, D.C., and San Antonio. He finished his military service in 1961 and returned to Idaho Springs. For a short time, he worked for the district attorney’s office and then established a private law practice. He and Margaret were married in 1964.
Judge Jones was a character, so it is only logical that he would attract other characters into his life. Margaret recalled that on their wedding day, the Clear Creek County Sheriff personally delivered the newly married couple from the church to their reception. The sheriff was dressed up as a devil, and he drove them in a pony cart. While the reception was just a half a block away, the route included parading the couple down Main Street.
Making a new home
Community involvement was always a large part of Judge Jones’s life. While he lived in Idaho Springs, he and his sister Chee Chee Bell established the community’s historical society, and he assisted with the paperwork to create the National Historic Districts for both Georgetown and Idaho Springs.
Judge Jones made the move from his hometown to Eagle in 1977. A position had opened on the 5th Judicial District bench, and while Margaret doesn’t remember Bill expressing a burning desire to become a judge, he decided to apply. It proved to be a precipitous move. Once appointed to the Eagle County District Court post, he found his professional niche.
“He knew the law very well, and he was a fair judge,” Margaret said.
By the time the family moved to Eagle, daughter Cynthia was 10 years old and son Brad was 4 years old.
Because she was new to town, Cindy didn’t know other kids, so she spent a lot of time watching her father preside over cases.
“When he came home, I would be loaded with questions about what happened in court and he would say, ‘You are going to be my lawyer,’” Cindy said.
Her father’s words were prophetic. She did follow her father into the legal profession.
Over the years, many attorneys have shared Judge Jones stories with the family. As a jurist, Judge Jones didn’t suffer fools and he did not put up with courtroom nonsense. He could deal out blistering criticism in court, but Cindy noted he often asked the attorneys who were at the receiving end of one of his rebukes to meet him in chambers. Then, one-on-one, he would explain why he was so harsh.
“He would yell at people, but it wasn’t personal,” Cindy said. And, at the end of the day, he would be happy to share a friendly drink with someone he had chastised.
Cindy noted her father complied a good appellate record during his 20 years on the bench. He also worked to get new justice centers built in Eagle County and Summit County. He was a member of the Colorado Bar Association and Continental Divide Bar Association for more than 50 years. He retired from the bench in 1996.
“Bill Jones was proud to be a country lawyer and a country judge,” said Judge Terry Ruckriegle, former chief judge of the 5th Judicial District. Ruckriegle was a longtime colleague and friend of Judge Jones.
“He was a mentor to me,” said Ruckriegle, noting he also began his law career in Idaho Springs and the two men often found themselves as personal friends and professional adversaries.
Ruckriegle remembers one time he was retained to shepherd a business through a liquor license process and he sought out Jones’ assistance. Instead of telling him specifics, Judge Jones gave him an instruction that Ruckriegle followed throughout his professional career.
“He told me I just needed to do my homework. That was something that stuck with me,” Ruckriegle said.
When Judge Jones was chief judge of the 5th Judicial District, he launched a couple of programs that continue to this day. One was quarterly meetings of all of the judges in the district to discuss the various issues they were facing. The other was an annual judge’s retreat that was part business and part social. Ruckriegle said those efforts have had a lasting impact in terms of team-building in the district.
Judge Jones’s professional influence was considerable, but it was only one part of his impact on the Eagle community.
Judge Jones was a volunteer firefighter and fire board member for 45 years — more than half of his life. He served as a volunteer for the Idaho Springs Fire Department for many years and as the department’s chief from 1974 to 1976. One memorable emergency response happened on Oct. 2, 1970, when he was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the scene of a plane crash carrying members of the Wichita State football team. The team was en route to Logan, Utah, when the plane crashed near Silver Plume. Of the 37 passengers and a crew of three on board, 29 were killed at the scene and two later died of their injuries while under medical care.
When his work brought him to Eagle, Judge Jones volunteered for the local department. He was involved with the Greater Eagle Fire department from 1978 to 1992.
While Cindy followed her father into law, son Brad followed him into firefighting. Brad is a captain with Greater Eagle Fire.
Like his sister, Brad has heard countless stories about his father as a firefighter. His fellow firefighters remember Judge Jones as a person who didn’t have a lot of patience with over-discussing an issue.
“He was definitely a get-it-done kind of guy. I try to carry that through,” Brad said.
Jon Asper served with Judge Jones on the fire department for many years, but their friendship predated that relationship. Asper said he met the judge the first day he arrived in Eagle, when he dropped by Berniece’s Place for a cocktail. Asper was the bartender.
“Where do you start recalling stuff about a guy like him?” Asper said. “He had great organizational skills and he didn’t necessarily wait for approval.”
Asper remembered that when a fire alarm sounded, Judge Jones would roll into the fire station, take off his tie and suit coat and jump into his gear.
“Under all his tough facade, he just really cared about people,” Asper said.
“The judge and Ken Norman kept the department running for years,” Asper continued. “The two of them personally financed buying the aerial truck and the tanker. His main goal was always to make sure that every man, woman, child and dog was safe in this town.”
Man of many interests
Between his legal career and his firefighting involvement, Judge Jones also found time for many more varied interests. He was a voracious reader and a history buff. He liked to work on cars, and his particular trophy project was the restoration of his dad’s 1956 Packard.
He loved the outdoors and taught both of his kids how to ski. He later took up snowmobiling, and he also enjoyed hunting.
For many, many years, Judge Jones was a Denver Broncos season ticket holder.
“He went to all the Broncos games when the Broncos were terrible,” Cindy said.
He built a cabin in Fulford and loved spending time in the former mining camp and summer cabin community.
Judge Jones was a socializer and his preferred hangout was the Brush Creek Saloon. He made lots of friends at the Eagle watering hole.
Since his passing, the family has heard from many of Judge Jones’ friends from various walks of life. They ask that people continue to share their stories and memories with family.
“He had great friends all parts of his life, and he taught us so many things,” Cindy said.
“I think that probably the best description of my dad is that he didn’t do anything halfway,” Brad said.
Later in his life, Judge Jones adopted a new role — doting grandfather to Shayden and Taelia, the daughters of Brad and his wife Dominique.
Along with his immediate family, Judge Jones is survived by many nieces and nephews and countless friends. He was preceded in death by his four siblings — Robert Jones, Warren Jones, Marjorie (Chee Chee) Bell and Marilyn Orr.
At Judge Jones’ request, no memorial services are planned. Memorial contributions can be made to the Idaho Springs Historical Society at P.O. Box 1318, Idaho Springs, CO 80452, or the Eagle Firefighter Association at P.O. Box 961, Eagle, CO 81631.