James Beverly "J.B." Jones, a William H. Ruffner Medal recipient and former mechanical engineering department head at Virginia Tech, passed away at his home in Blacksburg, Virginia on May 17. He was 93.
“As a professor, department head, and respected member of the Virginia Tech community, J.B. Jones was a tremendous leader who embodied the spirit of Ut Prosim,” said G. Don Taylor, Charles O. Gordon Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and interim dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and appreciative for J.B.’s contributions to the field of engineering thermodynamics and the university.”
Jones, who earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech in 1945 and was a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, depicted the ideals of a Renaissance man. Jones played with the regimental band, the Highty-Tighties, and was a member of the yearbook and student newspaper staffs. He was editor-in-chief of the precursor to today’s Collegiate Times, student newspaper The Virginia Tech. Beyond his communication and musical skills, Jones was an avid tennis player; a Virginia Tech Honor Court judge; and a member of several honor and social affiliations, including the German Club, Tau Beta Pi, Pi Tau Sigma, and Phi Kappa Phi, the most-selective honor society serving all academic disciplines.
While at Virginia Tech, he also met his late wife, Jane Hardcastle, an aerospace engineering graduate. Together, they provided philanthropic support to university programs and initiatives, including the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, the College of Engineering, and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. They were also members of the Ut Prosim Society, the university’s most prestigious donor society.
Post-graduation, Jones went to work for the U.S. Department of War and earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Purdue University. He taught at Purdue from 1945 to 1964 and was a Best Teacher Award winner there. During his time at Purdue, Jones worked for the General Electric Company, the Babcock and Wilcox Company, and General Motors Corporation.
Jones was encouraged by Virginia Tech’s President T. Marshal Hahn to apply for the mechanical department headship in 1964. Jones rose to the challenge and returned to his alma mater. Under Jones’ leadership, the department became nationally recognized. Both undergraduate and graduate programs climbed into top 20 national rankings, and the department won a national award from the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experiences.
With other faculty members, Jones obtained a $2 million grant to develop a computer-aided-design, computer-aided manufacturing laboratory in Randolph Hall. An additional $2 million grant from IBM facilitated the construction of the lab, which remains in use.
Jones also co-authored three books with his expertise, engineering thermodynamics, as the focus. Jones co-authored "Engineering Thermodynamics" with Regina E. Dugan, mechanical engineering graduate and the first woman to head DARPA, who now leads Facebook’s advanced research group, Building 8.
Three years after retirement in 1991, Jones earned national recognition when the American Society of Mechanical Engineers presented him the James Harry Potter Gold Medal for contributions in thermodynamics. In 2008, Jones was awarded the William H. Ruffner Medal, Virginia Tech's most prestigious honor, recognizing his distinguished service to the university. Acknowledged by the College of Engineering for his exceptional career successes, Jones was inducted in the Academy of Engineering Excellence in 2014.
Jones served on the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology, as well as its board of directors and executive committee. He was vice president for education for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and co-chaired The National Research Council Committee on Engineering Design Theory and Methodology.
A dedicated member of the community and accomplished musician, Jones served the greater Blacksburg community as a Rotarian and played the clarinet and saxophone for the Blacksburg German Band and the Blacksburg Community Band.
Jones grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. His father, Alonzo L. Jones, graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1918. He is survived by his daughter, Ellen Jones-Walker; his son, Warren Jones; his grandchildren, Kelly Hardcastle Jones and Reilly James Jones; and his great granddaughter, June Hardcastle Robinson Jones.
A memorial service will be held on June 10 at 2 p.m. at McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to an organization of your choice. Two of J.B.'s favorite organizations were the Montgomery County Humane Society and Saint Francis Service Dogs.