'One Last Tow;' Unique send-off planned for Jones
If there's a name instantly recognizable by a whole strata of folks in Saline County — particularly those of a certain age — it's the name Gene Jones.
Mr. Jones, who owned and operated a wrecker service in this community for more than 30 years, died Sunday at the age of 83. He retired in 1993 and is to be buried today at Pinecrest Memorial Park.
During the three decades when he was a familiar figure in the community, he connected with a goodly portion of the population by pulling their cars out of ditches and towing their wrecked vehicles to his business.
Known for his salty tongue and his humor, Mr. Jones also made a name for himself with his acts of kindness. Though the towing service was his livelihood, he would assist drivers whenever and wherever they were in trouble, regardless of their ability to pay.
As local residents were remembering him this week, many "Gene Jones stories" dominated conversations, including accounts like "Gene pulled me out of a ditch when I was (description of incident) and he didn't charge me a penny."
In the early 1990s, Jones made an unsuccessful run for Saline County sheriff.
He was one of several Democratic candidates who sought the position won by Judy Pridgen.
After the election, he made this comment to a candidate for another office: "I'll tell you one thing, Saline County has a bunch of d--n liars. Everyone I talked to told me they were gonna vote for me."
"He was a colorful character," Pridgen said in recalling that race.
She also noted that as she campaigned she would occasionally hear someone decline to offer support to her by saying, "I have to vote for Gene because he pulled me out of a ditch for free."
She also was told, "Gene's a good guy. He may not know anything about being a sherif, but he towed my car lots of times and I've got to vote for him."
Clint Newcomb, owner of Newcomb Towing, said he and other wrecker operators had a great deal of respect for Jones.
As a final tribute to the man who many in the area equate to being a symbol of the wrecker business, drivers from several towing services in the area plan to participate in the procession from Ashby Funeral Home to the cemetery.
"About 20 of us so far are planning to take part in a final send-off for Gene," Newcomb said. "We're going to start lining up on the street in front of the funeral home and then at the old Harvest Foods building, and then we'll be leading the funeral procession to the grave.
"We've got wrecker drivers coming from all around — Benton, Hot Springs, Malvern, Little Rock, Sheridan, other places," Newcomb said.
"Anybody who's ever worked for that man or wants to remember him is invited to take part," he added.
"He was a good man — he liked giving stuff away. If you were over 45, you probably remember that he gave you something.
"We're just trying to pay our respects," Newcomb said, "and give him one final tow."
Robert Jones, Jones' son, expressed appreciation for the tribute.
"I appreciate the time and effort they're putting into this," the younger Jones said. "The information got sent out to the newsletter for the association of wrecker businesses. I didn't know it was happening until then, and I can't say how much we appreciate it.
"My dad meant a lot to a lot of people," he said. "He touched a lot of lives. This was unexpected, but it's really appreciated."