Robert Jones
Robert Jones

Obituary of Robert Merril Jones

Award-wining architect, Robert Merril Jones, was born May 9, 1921 in Warsaw, New York, and graduated from Yelm High School and the UW architecture school. His great-great-grandparents, John E. Jones (born 1780) and Ann Jones (born 1786), moved from Wales to Radnor, Ohio and bought a farm valued at $100. In their Jones’ Family Welsh Bible, there are handwritten entries in English and in Welsh. John and Ann gave the Welsh name “Margreat” to a daughter in 1801. That child probably died as an infant because they named another child, Margreat, in 1806. “… Margreat John did born 1801 the 12 tachwadd yn Fil with cant ag ynarddog 1801… Margreat John did born in the 7th day of June one thowsand ait hyndrod and sics of owor Lord 1806.” In another entry the phrase, “Ann Jones late of Pantygwain and Synod Maid 1836” indicate the name of the family farm in Wales, “Pantygwain,” the ship that they sailed on from Cardiff, Wales, “the Synod Maid” and the year they sailed to New York, 1836. Their son, Evan John Jones, had been born in Wales in 1808. His son, John Evan Jones, was born in Ohio in 1851. John Evan married Catherine Watkins (born 1852), and had 10 children including Merril Amos Jones (born 1891). Merril Amos married Lellavine Jemima Hughes (born 1898). Their children were Robert Merril and Bonnelyn Mae. We thank Bob’s cousin, Chandler W. Jones, who researched and shared the family genealogy. In 1931 at age 15, Chandler worked on Uncle Perry Jones’ wheat farm in Albion, WA on the combine that was so huge that it required 19 horses to pull it. As a child, Robert and cousins would ride bicycles, one-speed bikes on dirt roads, from Yelm to Tacoma and back in an afternoon. On 14 November 1948 he wrote the following letter to Dorothy Evelyn Wood, who he was courting. “ Dear Dot, Yes, perhaps it’s due time that you had an insight on the background and general details… see how this ties in with your general impressions. The overall is the picture of happenings from 1939 to date. A picture concerning the transition from a generally diligent student in high school, without specialization or goal, to a bewildered architecture student, then a work period, a change thru several years in the army, a realization of travel ambitions… to a degree, then back to school and an experimental era. And then thru these experiences the attempt and desire to lead a normal existence…” In this 9-page letter, Robert mentions jobs as a draftsman at White River Lumber Co. in Enumclaw and at Boeing. His time in the Army began in April 1943. He was stationed with the 910th Engineers in Spokane and the Midwest. He trained in Ft. Belvoir, VA. The military sent the men by train. He then went on his “first cross country airplane flight… A happy surprise came when we trained up to N.Y.C. from where we shipped on a Victory Ship thru Gibraltar and the Mediterranean to Napoli. Naples and this waiting for assignment offered place and time for sightseeing. Pompeii, Vesuvius and just realizing that we were in a different country was very interesting and overwhelming.” Bob moved north with the 88th Division doing occupation duty on the Austrian-Italian-Yugoslavian border. In early 1946 when he was in Livorno waiting to be shipped home, he traveled to Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice and Trieste. He was fascinated with Italian art and architectural elements: domes, arches, porticos, and brickwork. He was fascinated with the proportions of shapes. He incorporated those shapes and proportions into the buildings he designed in his career. He enjoyed painting, drawing, golf and tennis. Once back in the US, he finished his architecture studies at UW. He worked with Bob Price, then Alan Little, then on his own. He married Dorothy Evelyn Wood, May 13, 1950. A Supreme Court Judge married them in her parents’ home. They lived in Seattle, and then moved to a house he designed in Fircrest. He and this home were featured in Life magazine. They lived most of their lives in their Lakewood home. They were married for 59 years until she died of a heart attack in 2009. In his room above his dresser, he kept a sketch he drew of the Santa Maria della Salute Church in Venice, a picture of him standing in front of the UW oceanography building that he had designed and the following prayer written in 1692. found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore. “Go placidly amid the noise & haste, & remember what peace there may be in silence. As far possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly & clearly; and listen to others, even the dull & ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud & aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain & bitter; for always there will be greater & lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity & disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue & loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees & the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors & aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery & broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy. “ He loved hearing people’s stories and designing spaces that honored peoples’ specific needs. He also tried to respect the land and trees of the Northwest. In the 1950’s he was already designing buildings with radiant heat in the floors, making them handicap-accessible and shaping them around trees on a lot so the least number of trees were harmed. He would echo the shapes and proportions of buildings that were near a building he was designing so that it would blend in with its surroundings. In the Northwest, he put domes in schools, arches into banks, and honeycomb, hexagon-shaped rooms in a dental office so the spaces felt good. In the 1950’s dental offices could be scary, sterile, white cubes lined up on a straight hallway with doors that creaked shut. He thought a patient would feel calmer in a wood-paneled hexagon with a glass wall looking out to a private garden. He arranged the hexagons in a circular pattern so that the dental staff would be able to move around more efficiently. His pattern strategically allowed each patient to have the door open, yet to feel privacy because no one passing by could peer in. If Bob liked a building he might describe it as: subtle, understated, elegant. If he really liked it he might say that the proportions worked. He designed a modest royal family palace for an extended family of 200 with camel parking so that a traveler could dismount from his camel and could enter directly into the palace. He also used concepts of the building’s purpose in its shape. In the UW Oceanography Research Building, he put in windows that felt like submarine portholes. In St. Mary’s church he wanted it to feel like an inverted Noah’s ark with the shape of a ship. The exposed, stained-wood beams were part of the Ark motif. The beams also were a tribute to God’s great trees of the Northwest. He had the ceiling painted a pale sky blue. Thus a person in the church looked up through the trees to the sky and then through the skylights and the wall of stained glass up to Heaven. God’s light would shine down through the skylights and through the stained glass to those people who were still on the Earth. The voices singing in the elevated choir loft would come down to the people as if they were the voices of angels. Because of the care, thought and creativity he put into each of his buildings, Bob won many American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Awards, Merit Awards and Special Citations. He was the president of the Southwest Washington AIA. Many of his homes were featured in Sunset magazine. He enjoyed mentoring architectural students. Bob enjoyed helping out the Lakewood theatre. He enjoyed seeing the process of a play coming together from the words on the page to the stage design and acting. He was the president of the Lakewood Players. Bob and Dorothy enjoyed trips to Canada, Italy, Russia, Germany, Denmark, Poland and France. Bob would walk for hours looking up at the architecture. He enjoyed going for walks at the Tacoma Mall. He always had a warm handshake and a twinkle in his brown eyes to greet people. He enjoyed connecting with people. He’d know the names of every person in a coffee shop and listen to their aspirations of what they wanted to do in their lives because he was genuinely interested in people. Bob loved Husky football, Tacoma baseball, the Donut House and the pot roast and the camaraderie at Burr’s restaurant in Lakewood. Bob and Dorothy enjoyed spending hours talking about animals and mythology with their grandson, Jacob-Joshua Merril. When Jacob-Joshua was still a newborn, Bob gave him a set of the Froebel blocks , which were the type of blocks that Frank Lloyd Wright played with. Bob and Dorothy enjoyed watching Jacob-Joshua play with wooden marble runs and train track. For Bob’s last six weeks, he was at his home with his family and Hospice Care. He played with his grandson with the Froebel blocks and ate his favorite foods. Thanks to Hospice, Bob was joking and watching a Husky game the day he died at home with his children, Shane and Marc, and grandson, Jacob-Joshua. We’ll celebrate his life Friday, June 10, 2011 at 2 pm at St. Mary’s Church in Lakewood. Arrangements by Edwards Memorial Center (253)566-1008
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