Kalamazoo, Mich. lost one of it’s own this weekend. State Rep. Robert Jones, a former four-term Kalamazoo mayor, was in the midst of his campaign for the 20th District Senate and only a few weeks away from a critical election, when he died at his home on Sunday, October 17, after attending an early-morning service at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Jones announced about a year and a half ago that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He refused to bend to the disease, giving the assurance that he wouldn’t let the cancer slow him down when he announced his run for the Senate in 2009. However, Jones had become noticeably more frail and gaunt in recent weeks and on Sunday morning, he succumbed to his illness.
Robert Jones moved to Kalamazoo in 1970 to work as a chemist for The Upjohn Company. Having been born in Jeffersonville, Ga., in 1944 and having experienced racism and racial inequality first hand, he was actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. In 1971, Jones’ stepdaughter was the lead plaintiff in the case Oliver vs. the Kalamazoo Board of Education – a case that resulted in the integrated busing of black and white students in Kalamazoo.
In 1997, Jones ran for the Kalamazoo City Commission, and was elected mayor automatically, having the most votes of any candidate. He went on to serve four terms, before running for state representative, where he won and served two terms. Despite his diagnosis of cancer, Jones ran as the Democratic candidate for the state Senate in 2009, and was campaigning against Tonya Schuitmaker when he passed away.
Schuitmaker was quoted in the Kalamazoo Gazette as expressing “profound sadness” at the death of her spirited rival. Despite being on opposite sides politically, she says that the two always greeted each other with a hug.
Shortly after his passing, Jones’ family posted the following official statement on Jones’ legislative website:
“Robert Jones died suddenly this morning after a long battle with cancer. We appreciate the support, thoughts and prayers of his colleagues and our community during this difficult time. Robert loved working for the people of our community. He was a dedicated public servant who took his job to heart and was a tireless advocate for the people he served. His leadership and hard work will be missed by those who will always think of him as their mayor.”
State Representative Robert Jones’ website
Kalamazoo Gazette article
The Michigan Messenger article
WWMT3 News Story