When Greg Jones reaches back, way back, one of his earliest memories is of ivy-walled Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs.
As the youngest child in a busy Chicago family, Jones spent hours in front of the television, absorbing every word of iconic sportscaster Jack Brickhouse’s staccato color commentary.
“My mom loved WGN with Jack Brickhouse because it was three hours of free babysitting,” recalls Jones D’85, G’88. “And I loved it.”
Before he was four years old, Jones had begun memorizing the players’ stats and taken to calling them out during televised games. “That’s probably where I got my sense of the underdog—rooting for the Cubs,” he says.
Star shortstop Ernie Banks was among Jones’ favorite players, but the position that intrigued him as a youth, and still does, is catcher. He appreciates that the catcher knows all the players’ strengths and weaknesses, calls the pitches, and serves as captain on the field.
“Some of the best managers are former catchers,” Jones says. “The catcher is the only person who sees the entire field of play from his position. I’ve always been drawn to the big picture.”
During 13 years as dean of Duke Divinity School—a tenure that ends July 1 when he becomes Duke University’s vice president and vice provost for global strategy and programs—Jones focused on the big picture as few others have. Colleagues and friends from across the university and the church describe him as a deep-thinking strategist, a gifted leader who honors tradition even as he embraces innovation. They uniformly say that Jones, who became dean in 1997 at age 36, has pushed the Divinity School to the forefront of theological education.
“He’s always pulling the world in through his mind,” says Duke University President Richard Brodhead, who approached Jones about the global strategy position late last year. “He also, while being in perfect accord with all of the traditional aims of the Divinity School, is a great entrepreneur. He’s thought of things that the Divinity School could do to extend its mission that someone else would never have thought of.”
New initiatives Jones led as dean include the Institute on Care at the End of Life, Center for Reconciliation, Clergy Health Initiative, Youth Academy, and Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.
He’s strengthened ties between the Divinity School and the rest of Duke University, especially the Fuqua School of Business, Duke Corporate Education, and the university’s Global Health Institute. Outside of Durham, Jones has championed partnerships and collaboration with schools, churches, and other Christian institutions around the world.
Among them is the Renk Visiting Teachers Program, jointly sponsored by Duke Divinity School and Virginia Theological Seminary, at Renk Theological College in Southern Sudan. Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns professor of Bible and practical theology, first traveled there to teach Hebrew in the summer of 2004. When she returned, she approached Jones about a partnership to send teachers of Greek and Hebrew, the top priority identified by the Sudanese educators.
“I was presenting Greg with a whole new thing,” says Davis. “I can’t think of any other university seminary leader who would have said, ‘This is great.’ ”
For Jones, the opportunity to partner with a seminary in Southern Sudan was full of potential to advance the role of the university in international society. He has since told Davis that he learned much of what he knows about education in international settings through conversations about Sudan.
“Greg leads with a strong vision, but he’s also able to catch someone else’s vision,” says Davis. “I don’t think many people are so nimble at both leading and knowing the moment to step aside and let someone else look ahead to a larger vision.”
Increased financial support for new programs, as well as growth in the school’s endowments for financial aid and professorships, reflects Jones’ gifts for sustaining relationships with individuals, the United Methodist Church, and major foundations, including Lilly Endowment Inc. and The Duke Endowment.
Craig Dykstra, Lilly Endowment’s senior vice president for religion, describes Jones as “a public theologian and religious leader of enormous influence and consequence.
“He brings profound theological, spiritual, and practical wisdom to bear in his many efforts to strengthen local congregations, support excellence in pastoral ministry, and to imagine new and better ways by which denominations, theological schools, and other agencies can work together to do so as well.
During the seven-year Campaign for Duke, which ended in 2003, the Divinity School blew past its initial goal of $35 million, then exceeded an