|“I WAS HAPPY TO BE BACK IN VIRGINIA and to be at the Law School.” Even today, Jones is pleased to return to the Law School to interview and help select the next group of Dillard Scholars.|
Maurice Jones Returns the Favor
Devotes Career to the Community that Raised Him
• Denise Forster
It is not uncommon to read a personal success story in which the subject complains about how hard he had it growing up. It is an exception to find a story in which the subject is instead grateful for it. Maurice Jones ’92 is that exception, and people throughout the Commonwealth, as well as the entire nation, have benefited.
In 2002, Jones was approached by Governor Mark Warner to serve as his deputy chief of staff; nine months later the Governor asked him to simultaneously serve as Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Social Services. As Commissioner, Jones oversees more than 1,500 employees who deliver social services to the state’s citizens, promoting responsibility and supporting the development of healthy families and communities. The department’s annual budget exceeds $1.6 billion, covering more than 120 localities.
Jones grew up in Kenbridge, a rural southern Virginia community with a scant 1,500 residents. His world was that of a typical agriculture-based community with its endless demands and harsh realities. Raised by loving grandparents and with cousins next door, Jones and his family planted, cultivated, and harvested acres of tobacco and corn and tended to the cows and pigs. And only then could he do his homework. “I don’t know if you have ever pulled tobacco, but that is all the incentive you will ever need to go to college,” he admits, no trace of resentment in his voice.
It was as important to Jones’s grandparents that he be a kind and moral man, as well as an educated one. “My grandparents had two priorities for me: I would get all of the education that I could, and I would be a nice person. I know I am fortunate because they were uncompromising on those things.” His family laid the groundwork for this lifestyle by insisting on good manners, dedication to their church, hard work on the farm, and excellence in academics. When recalling his childhood on the small farm his laugh comes easily. “I have always had a job! My grandparents’ farm guaranteed full employment,” he says.
|“I WANTED TO DO THIS JOB, to try to do good things for people. Working in state government provides me the chance to give back and nourish the people of the state that continues to nourish me."|
In ninth grade Jones served as a Page in the Commonwealth’s General Assembly. Then and there he made up his mind he would go to law school. “I saw lawyers working on important issues and knew I wanted that opportunity in life. I figured I’d need a law degree.” He was 14 years old.
Jones became valedictorian of his high school class, and was a star athlete in football, baseball, and basketball. But his talents reached much further than athletics alone. He earned a full merit scholarship to Hampden-Sydney College, a small, all-male, private college in Virginia. “I was happy in that close-knit academic environment and I was close to home.”
As in high school, Jones thrived, earning the title of valedictorian of his graduating class at Hampden-Sydney. He went on to even greater recognition of his intellect by being selected as a Rhodes Scholar. The small town Virginia farm boy spent three years far from home, in Oxford, England. Ever self-effacing, Jones recalls his naiveté which became painfully evident while he was readying to leave Virginia for the first time: “One of my professors was making sure I had things in order for the journey overseas. He was reading a checklist of what I would need when he got to a passport. Did I have my passport? I said, ‘Well, no. What is a passport?’”
After completing his master of philosophy in international relations at Oxford, Jones applied to law schools such as Harvard and Virginia. He received a call from the Law School asking him to interview for the prestigious Hardy Cross Dillard Scholarship. The combination of Virginia’s reputation and the Dillard Scholarship offer made Jones’s decision easy for him, “I was happy to be back in Virginia and to be at the Law School.” Even today, Jones is happy to return to the Law School to interview and help select the next group of Dillard Scholars.
After graduating in 1992, Jones practiced corporate law with Hunton & Williams in Richmond. “I always knew I would work in Virginia first—it was never a question of my leaving. It’s home.”
After a few years in corporate law, the opportunity to work for the public in the Treasury Department presented itself, Jones took it, and he hasn’t looked back. “This was my opportunity to get into public service—I wanted to give back to society. I have had so many blessings in my life, it only seems right.”
Jones became assistant to the general counsel at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and worked on an initiative called the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund. The CDFI Fund was created to tie together available credit, investment capital, and financial services to “distressed urban and rural communities.” Modeled somewhat on the concepts of the World Bank, the Fund promoted financial development in community based organizations to benefit its community members.
“I was drawn to combining my interests in finance and business to combat poverty,” said Jones. He served in several capacities at the Fund over five years, starting as general counsel and culminating as director. Since this was a political appointment, when the presidential administration changed in 2001, it was time for Jones to vacate the post.
After leaving the CDFI Fund, Jones became one of five partners at Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), an organization serving the metro-D.C. area on the frontlines of poverty. Less involved in financing, more hands-on in nature as a combination grant maker and consulting agency, VPP dedicates time, money, and energy to the efforts of organizations serving mostly children at risk. Jones appreciated his work. “The piece I loved most about this time was that it gave me the opportunity to learn more about organizations serving youth who were at risk of not fulfilling their potential.”
At VPP Jones came to the attention of newly elected Governor Mark Warner. Warner’s office recruited Jones to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff, where he focused on performance management, urban policy, and community development. As Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Jones’s work directly touches thousands of parents and children in Virginia every day through his administering of the welfare system, foster care, child protection, and adult protective services, as well as regulation of child care and adult care facilities, child support programs, and programs aimed at targeted adults-with-needs populations.
“I wanted to do this job, to try to do good things for people. Working in state government provides me the chance to give back and nourish the people of the state that continues to nourish me. It’s a blessing to be able to help the state be a better partner to people with various stresses in their lives.”
Being raised in a rural environment by old-fashioned grandparents made Maurice Jones value community and family life. In June of 2001 he married Lisa Smith, an attorney with MCI, and in late 2002 they started their family with the birth of daughter Michela. The couple bring Michela to visit Jones’s grandfather in Kenbridge regularly. There is no question that he will raise his daughter with the same value system that honors his upbringing.
It is clear to those who know and work with Maurice Jones that every investment made in him and his life has paid off handsomely.