The Chemistry of Success

(09-14-2011)

Jones' career in nuclear science was ignited at ASC

Born in a log cabin in Hooper, Colo., Tom Jones '52 devoted his career to assuring his country's security. He retired in 1991 after 31 years with the Atomic Energy Commission, having served for a time as Director of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Production.

In recognition of his professional accomplishments, he will be honored as the 2011 Outstanding Alumnus at the Homecoming Banquet on Sept. 30.

Jones exhibited a thirst for knowledge and love of science early on. He tells his story below:

"I was impressed with my two older brothers, who knew how to do everything and were willing to show me the tricks of their trade. But my brothers wouldn't take me to school; reportedly I once said 'You won't let me go to school till I'm ready to go to high school.'

"Finally, in 1936, they let me go to school, and I met Bud Carson, who became a lifelong best friend. In the 7th or 8th grade, I had a teacher who was very good at teaching science -- made it fun. In high school the superintendent taught chemistry, and I thought that was even more fun than science. paragraph "After competing on the school sports teams and completing the required course of study, I graduated from high school and entered Adams State in 1948. My next oldest brother spoke highly of the Chemistry Department and Dr. Thompson, emeritus professor of chemistry. I wanted to be a medical doctor like my grandfather, and also took biology with Dr. James H. Craft, emeritus professor of biology. He was a magnificent teacher, just like the rest. My junior year I took the medical school entrance exam but was not accepted, because 'you don't know enough about art and history even though you scored very near the top in the scientific disciplines.' I never understood what 'art and history' added to a physician's capabilities.

"In 1952, I graduated with a degree in chemistry and biology and took my first job with the DOW Chemical Company at the Rocky Flats Plant outside Denver. I underwent training at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and had no sooner returned to Denver when Uncle Sam decided more troops were needed in Korea. I was sent back to the south for Army basic training at Camp Rucker, Ala. The remainder of my service was spent at Ft. Benning, Ga., as a medic working with doctors who were no great shakes in 'art or history' either.

"After returning to the Rocky Flats Plant, as a chemist, I asked out Joanne Robinson, the secretary to the Plant's Chief Accounting Officer, when she handed me a paycheck. We married on October 27, 1956, and have three children, Robin (Scot) Stubenhofer, Valerie, Scott, and three grandchildren, Beth, Alex and Sam Stubenhofer.

"I received a master's degree at Colorado University and was hired by the Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque, N.M., in 1960. There I visited plants and laboratories to learn all about weapon production processes in detail, in order to render a critical evaluation of material accounting programs. With this experience I chose a career field of great interest -- in the design and production programs for delivery of nuclear weapons to meet the needs of the United States Military. Beginning in 1963, I was the nuclear program engineer responsible for plutonium; development engineer for anti-ballistic missile nuclear warheads, assistant manager for operations at the Rocky Flats Plant, manager at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas; and in 1974 -- during the ten-year peak of the Cold War -- was appointed director of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Production.

"Later, I became assistant manager in areas of safety (workers, facilities, and nuclear) and security. When President Reagan established the high-priority Strategic Defense Initiative, I was assigned to manage these programs for the Albuquerque Office and develop a strategic plan for the weapon system. An additional high priority effort assignment was to improve the emergency response capabilities in the plants and laboratories, to include nuclear weapon accident response. This resulted in a Washington appointment to identify and assemble an Emergency Management Team of National Laboratory and Department of Energy professionals at Cape Canaveral for the launch of the Ulysses and Galileo space probes, which contained radio isotopic generators, on the space shuttle."

Tom and Joanne Jones live in Albuquerque, N.M., and regularly attend local alumni events.

Tom Jones declassified Interview by Linda Relyea

Q: Which accomplishments are you most proud of?

TJ: There were a number, but I can't talk about them because of security.

Q: What is a little known fact most people don't know about you?

TJ: My entire working career!

Q: Who do you admire in your life?

TJ: Herman Roser, manager of the AEC Operations Office, and Harold Agnew, Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory

Q: Do you wish you had chosen a more positive career?

TJ: No, my profession is about as positive as you can get -- the Russians were not kidding.

Q: Are you pro-nuclear power?

TJ: Nuclear power is a good idea; it isn't any more dangerous than other energy sources. Look how many are killed in coal mining. The benefits so outweigh the potential problems.

Q: What goals remain for you?

TJ: Researching the Jones and Meyer Family genealogy; I am the president of the Albuquerque Genealogy Society.

Q: What concerns you in the world today?

TJ: I always have concerns, but am not sure of answers. I am not a liberal by any stretch.

Q: What is your last ASC memory?

TJ: I believe I was one of the last people to visit Dr. Craft when he was in the hospital. Years after my graduation he told me, "I always knew you'd turn out well."


Q: What would you say to your college self, now, if you could?

TJ: Work harder; don't go to so many movies.

Q: Have you ever dyed your hair or been tattooed?

TJ: NO.

Q: What was your first car?

TJ: My brothers and I shared a '37 Ford Coupe.