Virginia Tech® home

John R. Jones III

John R. Jones III

Mechanical Engineering
Class of 1967, BS

John R. Jones III takes special pride in his strong family ancestry. His grandfather, Gaetano Laneve Molinary, immigrated to the U.S. from Italy early in 1897, entering the country through Ellis Island. He followed the railroad tracks westward and settled in the one square mile coal-mining town of St. Paul, Virginia, where the population still remains at a meager 1,000 residents.

The next generation Sophia Molinary married John R. Jones, Jr., who remained in St. Paul and started the Tri County Tire Service. Today, the 55-year-old business continues to operate as the second oldest business firm in St. Paul, and is still owned by the Jones family. John R. Jones III, now a retired Senior Vice President of American Electric Power (AEP), spends about two out of every six weeks at his second home in Wise County, checking on the dealership.

“Since I retired, my immediate concerns have become my family, my consulting business, and my hometown of St. Paul,” Jones says. He is involved in its local politics, meets regularly with citizens and members of the Town Council, and works with the school system in the town where only 17 percent of the population has a college degree. “I believe I can help affect what happens in St. Paul,” says the philanthropist.

In that regard, Jones and his sister Vicki Berling of Virginia Beach have established the Jones Family Scholarship at the St. Paul High School for youngsters who want to attend Virginia Tech. The first two, Josh Turner and James Christopher Sutherland, started in the fall of 2006 as general engineering students. As long as the students remain in good academic standing and enrolled at Virginia Tech, they are eligible for $1,000 a year for five years from the scholarship endowment.

Recalling his own experience attending high school in St. Paul, Jones says, “Everyone knew who you were. They knew your family and they were supportive. We always had someone who would pick us up and spur us on to do more. There was never a question that my sister and I would go to college.” So Jones and his sister are now the ones who are helping spur the students on to do more. St. Paul High School has always had exemplary academics as evidenced by the high percentage of its graduates attending college.

One of 29 graduates of St. Paul High School in 1961, Jones came to Virginia Tech with a high school record of almost straight As. A mild case of polio prevented him from joining the Corps of Cadets, but he was able to co-op with Arnold Engineering Development Center, an aerospace company. With only a few quarters to go, he took a leave of absence from Virginia Tech and became an employee of AEP at a power plant near St. Paul. But the wise plant manager gave the young Jones the job in the fall of 1966 with a proviso: he had to return to Virginia Tech at the beginning of the next spring academic quarter and finish his education.

Jones graduated in 1967 with his degree in mechanical engineering (ME) and spent the next 30 months at AEPʼs Clinch River Power Plant. A defining career moment soon came, and Jones found himself applying for and securing a new position in AEP that required him to move to the companyʼs headquarters in New York City. From then on, Jonesʼ career was a whirlwind. He never stayed in one location more than five years, and he never kept the same position for more then two, until he relocated to AEPʼs headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, in 1983.

In his 20s, Jones was building some of the largest power plants in the world, including seven of the nine existing 1,300 megawatt coal-fired units in the world in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also in charge of converting a nuclear plant to coal, the first and only time this has been accomplished. In 1993, the electric power giant asked Jones to assume his first senior vice president position. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Jones recalls.

By the late 1990s, Jones was in charge of 16 coal-fired and 17 hydro-generating AEP facilities in seven states. At this point, he started putting teams together. “All of our facilities were like islands. I wanted teams to suggest policy and direction. No one else in the utility industry was using this approach at the time, though other industry was, partly because it was a big cultural change and partly because of peoplesʼ resistance to change.” Jones still believes that this cultural change will serve AEP well in the 21st Century.

In 1998, Jones became a senior vice president in charge of generation projects. He directed leading-edge environmental projects such as flue gas scrubbers (FGS), selective catalytic reduction (SCR), and other measures to remove nitrous oxides plus pursuing innovative new generation alternatives such as Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC). “We did this work in anticipation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changing its rules,” Jones explains. “With spiraling natural gas prices, and the countryʼs reluctance to move towards nuclear power, we believed we needed to find cleaner ways to burn coal, our most abundant energy source.”

In 2000, AEP named Jones President of a wholly owned subsidiary of the company, Pro Serv, Inc., an organization of some 1,400 professionals responsible for the engineering, design, construction, and maintenance of AEPʼs in-house fleet of power plants and to market those services to others in the power industry. “At the time, we had more than 80 coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, and wind power plants,” Jones explains. “And our purpose was to hone our competitive edge, lower our costs, and be profitable in performing this work for other power producers in the open market.”

When Jones retired from AEP at the end of 2002 after a 36-year career with the utility company, Pro Serv had become the ninth largest power contractor in the country, increasing in revenues from $150 million to $800 million in the 30-month period. Since his retirement, he has remained active by consulting to the power industry.

In retirement, Jones finds that the huge shortage of people who have excelled in project management of engineering, design, construction, and maintenance causes his phone to ring “a lot. Primarily, attorneys and utilities are asking me for my expertise as an independent expert. So far, all the requests are about power, but the knowledge is readily transferable to other industries. The root is being experienced in engineering and recognizing how to bring this experience to bear as you build and operate something.”

One project he wants to tackle, combining his consulting and his love of St. Paul, is to assist in building the coal-fired power plant that has been announced in his hometown. He has had preliminary discussions, and hopes this will help with employment opportunities.

At Virginia Tech, Jones will be inducted into the Ut
Prosim Society in 2007, following his major gift of $600,000 that ensures the ME Department will be able to continue an innovative Faculty Fellows program, designed to acknowledge and reward faculty in the junior ranks who have shown exceptional merit in research, teaching, and/or service. Recipients of the Jones Fellow of Mechanical Engineering will be eligible to receive supplemental funding for a period of up to five years.

Jones has served on the ME Advisory Board since 1997, and was a member of the College of Engineeringʼs Advisory Board from 1995 until 1999. Since 1995, Jones has also funded an endowed scholarship for ME students. And he has one other current project he is working on for St. Paul — he is helping build a permanent girls softball field on a piece of land he owns adjacent to the high school.

Class of: 1967
Year Inducted into Academy: 2007