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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.

frequent international mission trips, recognized early, Jones says, “that I am at my worst when I get bored.”

The United Methodist Youth Fellowship, where he formed close friendships and began participating in mission trips, helped develop his instincts as a fundraiser. When his youth group planned a car wash to raise funds for a mission trip, it was his idea to ask for a donation. “People were very generous,” says Jones. “We ended up getting much more than if we’d set a price.”

But sitting quietly through worship at University UMC, a neighborhood church he attended with friends, often felt like torture. Some Sundays he’d sneak out of the balcony to a nearby bowling alley until it was time to go home, hoping his parents, who attended a different church, wouldn’t ask about the sermon. He did get caught once, resulting in a weeklong grounding. Even his junior high school grades began to slip.

His parents moved him twice to different schools, hoping he’d find a better fit. By ninth grade, when Jones entered a Christian Brothers high school, he found the school’s speech and debate team a perfect match for his restless intellect.

He also discovered the writings of Flannery O’Connor, an author Jones credits with shaping his Christian imagination. His high school teachers and coaches set high standards, pushing him to think creatively, and to ask big questions.

“These were teachers who really stirred my imagination,” he says. “I wanted to be like them. And I wanted to know how to create more people like them.”

Jones’ love of sports has remained a constant, although he’s more often a spectator than a participant. When his schedule permits, he’s at Wallace Wade or Cameron Indoor Stadium, for Duke’s home games, cheering on the Blue Devils.

During the many years he played baseball, Jones’ coaches rotated him among three positions—pitcher, short-stop, and catcher. Each of these positions fit him well until his early teens, when a rapid growth spurt led to a series of knee injuries. He was diagnosed with dislocating kneecaps, and had the first of what became many surgeries. He gave up baseball and basketball for tennis and track, but by his junior year of high school, the long postoperative recoveries had forced him out of competitive athletics.

Predictably, Jones didn’t waste the time. He filled the periods of recuperation by reading books of all kinds, forming a habit that continues to serve him well. “I became more reflective and serious,” says Jones. “And I became much more aware of my own faith.” 

Jones continued on the academic fast track. At 17, he graduated from high school, where his classmates voted him “most intelligent” and “most likely to succeed.” Two and a half years later, during his final semester as an undergraduate at the University of Denver, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and soon-to-be summa cum laude graduate, he enrolled in the M.B.A. program. In the first-year statistics course, he encountered a midterm exam question that changed everything: “How many tires in a shipment would have to have defects before the entire shipment should be sent back to the supplier?”

“I really didn’t care about tires,” says Jones, whose quote for his high school yearbook was “When I die, I would rather people say, ‘He lived for the betterment of others’ than, ‘He was rich.’”

His future, he realized, was not in tires.

Instead, he earned a master of public administration degree from the University of Denver, imagining that a career seeking “the betterment of others” lay in public service. But he was also struggling with a call to ministry.

His mother’s father was a United Methodist pastor, as was his father. Jameson Jones was widely known as a Methodist youth leader and editor of two national youth periodicals. Before becoming president of Iliff, he had worked on the staff of the UMC’s General Board of Education, and edited Motive magazine. His mother had always been a leader in the church as a diaconal minister, choir director, and organizer of work teams, and his older brother, Scott, was a student at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

“I was interested,” he says, “but I thought I wanted to avoid the family business.”

He applied to several divinity schools, including Duke, where his father had been named dean early in 1981. Jameson Jones had quickly become a popular preacher in Duke Chapel, remembers Rick Lischer, who had joined the Duke Divinity faculty in