Honoring a legend: retired Florida legislator Marilyn Evans Jones

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter – News Analyst

Marilyn Evans Jones interview conducted by the Florida State Archives
Marilyn Evans Jones interview conducted by the Florida State Archives

Close to 100 people gathered at Osprey Village’s Wellness Center on August 19, 2013 to watch a documentary premiere featuring one of Nassau County’s most well-known former legislators and community activists.  Marilyn Evans Jones, who served ten years in the Florida House of Representatives from 1976 to 1986 as a representative of Brevard County, was the subject of an hour-long interview conducted by the Florida State Archives as part of their ongoing oral history program featuring former legislators.  The interview was recently filmed at Evans-Jones’ condominium in Osprey Village.

Marilyn Evans Jones welcomes audience members.
Marilyn Evans Jones welcomes audience members.

Evans Jones, accompanied by her granddaughter Courtney Parrish seemed genuinely touched by the turnout of so many friends and colleagues.  She received written well wishes from Congressman Ander Crenshaw, who was unable to attend.  She introduced the interview, and then sat down to watch along with the audience.

During the interview, Evans Jones discussed her early years growing up and attending school in Jacksonville, where she accumulated many honors, including junior and senior year class president and student of the year, in addition to sports activities that included marching with the Landon Lionettes.  She continued her education at Duke University, graduating as an education major in 1950.  She married Hugh Macauley Evans, Sr. immediately following graduation, and quickly became a mother of four:  Hugh, Daniel, Cecile and Mary Louise.

Evans Jones in the Florida House Chamber, 1976.  Courtesy:  Florida Memory Project
Evans Jones in the Florida House Chamber, 1976. Courtesy: Florida Memory Project

While she and her family lived in Brevard County, Evans Jones became president of Republican Women in South Brevard, worked as a volunteer lobbyist for United Methodist Women and the League of Women Voters, and helped her husband in his run for County Commission.  These experiences convinced her that she wanted to make a political run for the State Legislature.  Through hard work and old-fashioned personal politicking, she succeeded and became a Republican legislator in a Democrat-controlled House.  Nonetheless, she was able to pass important legislation by working across the aisle and concentrating on the merits of a bill rather than on claiming credit.

Marilyn Evans Jones is widely credited with the Child Safety Restraint Bill, the Clean Indoor Air Act, establishing adult day care centers and bringing about reform in mental health institutions and prisons.  She also deserves credit for legislation that allows for temporary handicapped parking permits, clean water, and outlawing odometer rollbacks on automobiles.  She emphasized that every piece of important legislation had a name and a face to it.

Evans Jones on the House floor, 1986.  Courtesy:  Florida Memory Project
Evans Jones on the House floor, 1986. Courtesy: Florida Memory Project

In 1986 she was named one of ten outstanding Republican legislators in the country.  This honor earned her a trip to the White House where she met President Ronald Reagan.  In 1986 she also ran unsuccessfully for Florida Lieutenant Governor.  Having completed ten years in the Florida Legislature, she called it quits in 1986 and moved to Nassau County to enjoy retirement with her second husband Ed Jones, a Rayonier Timber Executive who also served as mayor of Fernandina Beach.

She returned to state level public service briefly 1997 when she served as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, championing political redistricting by the judiciary.  Although she did not prevail on this issue, she continues to maintain that redistricting by an impartial body as opposed to the majority party in the legislature, results in districts that better serve the people over time by creating more competition during elections.

The interviewer asked her about being called “The Mother of Nassau County’s Republican Party.”  Evans Jones recalled that when she moved here there was not one Republican elected official.  She set out to change that, recruiting and training many individuals who have gone on to serve as Republicans in County government.

Evans Jones continues today to help and advise those considering political careers as Republicans.  She said, “Once you get your toe in the water, it’s hard to get out.”  But she has also devoted many hours to the community.   She was instrumental in the creation of Micah’s Place, a shelter for battered spouses.  Her volunteer activities have been recognized through awards such as the Eve Award for Volunteer Services in 2004 and the Heart of Gold Award for Senior Volunteer Activity in 2007.

Evans Jones has been an outspoken proponent of term limits for legislators.  She said during the interview, “I had a wonderful time.  But I looked upon my time in the Legislature as public service, not as a life time career.”  She defined “conservative Republican” principles as integrity and honesty, and focusing on goals that help people. When asked what her advice would be to those wanting to serve in the legislature today, she replied, “Work hard, set goals, and work with your fellow legislators.”

Marilyn Evans Jones surrounded by current and former elected officials.  And a grand daughter.
Marilyn Evans Jones surrounded by current and former elected officials. And granddaughter Courtney.

Suanne ThammEditor’s Note:  Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city.  We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

August 20, 2013 12:02 p.m.

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