Printer-friendly version

Dream Catcher

Greg Jones Joins Duke’s Global Team
With a strong record of innovative leadership as dean of the Divinity School, L. Gregory Jones has been called to position Duke University’s global strategy.

adjusted goal of $85 million, and eventually raised $102 million for faculty positions, student financial aid, new programs, and a host of other needs. The campaign also included fundraising for a major building addition. The $22 million project included the Westbrook Building and Goodson Chapel, which opened in 2005, adding about 50,000 square feet of space for learning and worship.

At the same time, Jones continued the work of his predecessors, building a faculty that is widely considered one of the world’s best.

“Duke is now the standard for theological education in the world,” says Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe professor of theological ethics, citing an informal 2009 ranking in First Things’ popular blog. Hauerwas, a mentor to Jones who also directed his dissertation, himself was named America’s best theologian by Time in 2001. “Greg positioned the Divinity School at Duke to represent the kind of generous orthodoxy that now seems to be the future,” says Hauerwas. 

With two older siblings, Jones began honing his intellectual gifts at an early age. Before he turned 3, Jones was reading aloud the names of cities on airport signs—initially those with Major League Baseball teams—during family trips. By age 6, he had taught himself to play bridge with the rest of the family.

“I evidently was pretty decent,” says Jones, who remembers that fellow passengers on a cross-country train trip were astonished to see him holding his own in games with his parents and siblings, who were 11 and 13 at the time.

Jones’ entrepreneurial bent surfaced shortly thereafter. During the summer, he developed a two-page typed newsletter about baseball and sold it to neighbors and family friends. A straight-A student throughout elementary school, he spent his free time organizing neighborhood games with friends. The game changed seasonally, rotating among baseball, football, and basketball. Any game was fine, as long as it involved a ball.

Today, with the help of the latest communications technology, Jones thrives on what many would consider sensory overload. He has been known to simultaneously watch television, work on a manuscript, play a board game with one of his children, talk on his cell phone, and check e-mail, never missing a beat.

“I used to say that Greg has the ability to keep lots of balls in the air,” says Richard Lischer, Cleland professor of preaching and a member of the search team that recommended Jones. “But it’s more than that. He has a vision of the intellectual and spiritual architecture of things that he is able to translate into institutional realities.”

Jones is a self-described morning person who rises early, eager to begin meetings with his key staff, often before 8 a.m. Despite the hour, Jones’ resonant laugh greets his colleagues before they enter the room.

Laceye Warner, who has worked with the dean both as associate dean for academic formation and programs and as associate professor of the practice of evangelism and Methodist studies, says Jones’ laughter “lifts us all. We eagerly follow him, recognizing the difference his leadership is making for the church, the academy, and the world.”

As a scholar, professor, and administrator, Jones has the capacity for simultaneously viewing things through both wide-angle and telephoto lenses. While he prefers the wider angle, his powers of memory, evident since early childhood, help him to track details others might miss. 

David Odom, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, describes Jones as a leader with “boundless energy” who has strengthened both the Divinity School and the church. “Greg reads, imagines, integrates, and executes on more ideas in a week than I can count,” he says.

Soon after Jones became dean, Constance Fraser Gray, then chair of the Rural Church Committee of The Duke Endowment, met him at an endowment dinner. Right away, she says, she noted “his signature exuberance about his faith, the Divinity School, and his vision of what’s possible in God’s world.

“He realizes that nothing exists apart from God,” says Gray, who is the current chair of the endowment’s governance committee. “He’s a catalyst for making things happen.”

But focusing his exuberance was not always easy. In Denver, Colo., where the family moved when Jameson Jones became president of Iliff School of Theology, Greg could barely sit through class.

Teachers struggled to hold the attention of this boisterous child who mastered their lessons—he had read Tolstoy’s War and Peace by fifth grade—with so little effort. His mother, Bonnie, a musician who directed the church choir and led