When Tinsley Jones was in high school, he drove a sweet ride: a red ’53 Pontiac convertible that he shared with his brother. It was the kind with a black leather interior and a black top, the kind that was perfect for picking up a date or cruising down South Main Street on a weekend afternoon.
In those days South Main was a different place. Now it is a string of churches and falling-down storefronts facing patched pavement and light-rail tracks, but once it was a simple two lanes, back and forth, with no highway access. Narrower, perhaps, but it glittered like a teenager’s dream. There was Playland Park, with its roller coasters and rides and carnival games. There were two drive-in eateries, Prince’s and Stewart’s, for grabbing a quick bite to eat. Downtown were the Lowe’s, Majestic, and Metropolitan movie theaters.
Jones spent some of his weekends here, eating out, driving around. Other weekends were spent at sporting events, especially football games. Sometimes the local country clubs hosted dances, where you could dance the Jitterbug or the Bop or the Bunny Hop or the Twist. Sometimes there was bird hunting or fishing out of town.
“Life was more simple,” Jones said. “Safer, less stressful. Most of us were carefree but recognized a proper education was essential. [It was] not nearly as high-tech.”
Jones’s official job at Kerr is hall monitor. He keeps the school safe, making sure that doors are locked, IDs are worn, and that outsiders register at the front office. He also maintains lockers and patrols the halls to make sure that all is well.
Many are familiar with this aspect of Jones. Fewer ask him about his past, his story, and his memories of a simpler time.
This is a man who remembers attending sixth grade at Grady Elementary, which was comprised of “four rooms, six grades, and two outhouses” and sat at the corner of Post Oak and Westheimer, the present-day location of the Galleria. In 1949, however, it was nothing more than “two little crossroads about five miles from the city limits of Houston.”
Jones lived on what was then the south side of town, in a neighborhood that was “moderate upscale, but not River Oaks”. He first attended Grady, then Lanier Middle School, and then transferred to Persian Junior High. He then attended Lamar High School, where he captained the school’s champion swim team.
“The swim team was so good,” Jones said, “that in order to find competition we swam against freshmen at A&M,Texas, Rice, SMU, TCU, and usually beat them.”
Jones spent his own college years at the University of Houston. He interrupted his college education twice: once to join the Air Force reserves, and once to get a job and marry his wife, whom he met at college and to whom he has been married for 51 years.
Jones spent six years in the Air Force reserves, serving between 1959 and 1965.
“Back in the day the draft was in effect,” he said. “If you were drafted you had to do two years of active duty.” Instead, Jones opted for six years in the reserves, which allowed him to stay in school. The job required basic training, a two-week camp every summer, and a weekend’s meeting once every month. Jones was never called up to fight.
He graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from UH and started working in the oil and natural-gas industry. For several years he purchased and sold natural gas, crude oil, and other by-products to energy companies.
From 1980 to 1987, Jones worked as Vice President of Marketing and Gas Supply for the Enron corporation. His favorite part of the job was working with customers—oil and gas producers, municipalities, businesses—and negotiating business deals. It was a job that entailed lots of traveling and entertaining of customers: playing golf, skiing, fishing, and the like.
“Back in that era we did a lot of entertaining,” Jones said. “It was an accepted practice…It wasn’t bribing customers. It was just getting to know customers so that we could…find out what their corporate goals are so that we could meet their corporate goals while meeting our own at the same time.”
In 1987 Jones was given a severance package from Enron. He went on to start his own company, Environmental Containment Rings, which designs and furnishes material for secondary containment units for hydrocarbon liquids.
“Using my type of containment system,” Jones said, “any spill would be contained and could be disposed of without incurring any soil contamination.”
In addition, Jones also began substitute teaching for Alief around 2003. After two years of this, he decided to work full-time.
“I woke up one day and said if I’m gonna substitute teach, I might as well get a full-time job and get health benefits,” Jones said. He joined the staff at Kerr in the fall of 2006.
“I think Kerr is an extremely special school,” Jones said. “There’s greater…desire on the part of the students to further their education.”
His favorite part of his workday, he says, is greeting students as they arrive at school.
“I work the bus door in the mornings, which I volunteer to do,” he said. “I want the students to feel comfortable and welcome. Most respond very positively. It makes me feel good.”