Ben Jones

Benjamin Franklin Jones III, 101, of Gladwyne and Waverly Heights, Pa., and formerly of Pinehurst, an innovative and world-class engineer and respected veteran company executive for four decades at BF Goodrich, passed away Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, at Lankenau Hospital.

His memorial service will be held Saturday, Dec. 7, at 1 p.m. at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, and a celebration of his life will be held immediately following the church service at the spacious Waverly Heights auditorium from 3 to 5 p.m. in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Ben was a regular reader of The Pilot in Philadelphia (his son Bill was the sports editor and golf writer in the 1980s and early 1990s), and Ben was constantly checking the newspaper for news about his friends from the Tin Whistles organization.

Ben was also an accomplished golfer all his life and was a 2-handicap golfer when his first son, Bob, was born in 1951. Ben had four holes in one in his golf career, including two at Pinehurst. Ben was good friends with many Sandhills residents (too numerous to mention) including Andi Hoffmann, Steve Smith (former mayor of Pinehurst), Bud and Ellen Shulby, Lionel Callaway, Lew Ferguson, Lindbergh Galbreith, Rose Harris, and many, many others. In the later years, Lindbergh and Rose helped Ben with errands and caregiving for his wife Frances’ twin sister Barbara.

Ben’s youngest son Bill was a golf writer, radio talk show host, supporter of charitable causes in Pinehurst and friend of such notables as North Carolina basketball legend Dean Smith and North Carolina State icon Coach Jimmy Valvano. (Ironically and sadly, Bill Jones and Jimmy V. would both die of lung cancer far too early in their lives).

When Jim Valvano had his first hole in one, he said “Get Bill Jones over here,” as Bill had written a column that Jimmy V. tacked to his bulletin board that said don’t criticize him until something is proven by the NCAA, and as a result the two had become friends. A picture was taken of the two of them at Mid-Pines with the caption reading “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Bill also hosted many new entrants into the Golf Hall of Fame when it was in Pinehurst, including Patty Berg and Bob Hope.

The Dean Smith/Vince Carter North Carolina Tar Heel basketball team signed a poster for Bill’s hospital room in 1995 that his brother still has. Bill predeceased his father in 1995 after contracting lung cancer at the age of 40 and the Bill Jones Foundation was established in his name that permanently endowed two college scholarships in journalism at Sandhills College and established an annual golf camp for nearby Pinecrest High School students who have not yet had an opportunity to learn to play the game of golf. These classes were subsequently taught by Bill’s good friend, John McDougald, and Ben would each year address the class of new golfers with a few chosen words. Because of his loyalty to the Tar Heels, Ben watched all former Tar Heels on NBA teams, but his favorite player was Danny Green, now with the Los Angeles Lakers. His son Bob got him the NBA Channel four years ago so Ben could watch the West Coast games late at night.

Ben moved to Waverly Heights from Pinehurst in 2009 after the death of his beloved wife Frances, to be nearer to his son Bob and Bob’s family in a suburb of Philadelphia.

Ben was well-known at Waverly Heights for his love of fitness, playing bridge, friends, the Phillies, University of Michigan (he was a Michigan cheerleader in the Gerald Ford era), and the Villanova Wildcats basketball team. Bob took him to two Villanova basketball practices where Coach Jay Wright met him for the first time in 2017. Ben said upon meeting Wright, “Coach, are you going to win national championships for us in even-numbered years?” (Villanova had already won in 2016 by that time). Coach Wright looked at Ben in his wheelchair, and smiled broadly and said, “Ben, that’s a great idea!” and then gave Ben his Villanova team wrist bracelet, which Ben wore for the entire year, and until his passing. (The Wildcats went on that year to win the NCAA title that year in 2018 against Ben’s beloved Michigan). 

The next year at the same venue in the new Finneran Center at Villanova, Coach Wright called Ben “his oldest fan and friend” in front of a group of boosters and gave him his “Attitude” bracelet. 

Ironically, previously that year, Ben’s son Bob met then-coach of Michigan basketball, John Beilein (now the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers pro team), in the Philadelphia airport and Bielein enthusiastically did a video shout-out to Ben on Bob’s cell phone to thank him for his lifetime support of Michigan athletics and to wish him a happy birthday.

Ben began his career after graduating from the University of Michigan as a mechanical engineer and draftsman at BFGoodrich headquarters in Akron, Ohio. At Michigan, Jones was an active member and football team quarterback of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and an avid tennis, squash and bridge player.

He worked for BFGoodrich for 40 years. He was fortunate to work in BFGoodrich’s patent department for two years; he still holds 14 patents in jet aircraft wheels and brakes, having helped to develop those components immediately after World War II. Within one year, he won a competitive position in the patent department and would have stayed there if he had not subsequently been recruited to BFGoodrich’s Airplane Equipment Department. 

Later, he served as vice president of BFGoodrich Aerospace Marketing and moved to Troy, Ohio (near Dayton), where he oversaw the wheels and brakes plant. At that time, the Troy plant employed roughly 2,000 people and was considered a leader in the industry for airplane brake systems. After six successful years in Troy, he was called back to BFGoodrich’s world headquarters in Akron, where he became vice president of Aerospace Development.

In Akron, his team developed America’s first space suit. (An engineer who worked for him broke his wife’s sewing machine with a rubber suit). With the invention of the space suit, BFGoodrich won the Mercury contract, and he met all of the first astronauts, including John Glenn, who with Ben’s brother-in-law, Glenn C. Whipkey, formed Muskingum’s football backfield before the war. He also got to meet notable aviation luminaries like Werner Von Braun, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, and Jimmy Doolittle.

Eventually in the early ’70s, he became vice president of the BFGoodrich Tire Division. Aerospace was one of the main profitable divisions at that time, so they combined it with Tires to attempt to reenergize and bootstrap the passenger tire business. In that role, he eventually got to work on five-year plans for the entire company for then-president John Ong.

Ben served many philanthropic organizations with enthusiasm and wisdom, including president of Junior Achievement for Akron, Ohio, president of the Firestone High School Aquatic Association, Pinehurst Rotary, Zoning Board for Pinehurst, Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Hall of Fame volunteer, The Village Chapel, and the Tin Whistles of Pinehurst. He was also the head of the Aerospace Committee for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE — who recognized him with a lifetime achievement plaque for his 100th birthday) during the 1950s when his father, B. Franklin Jones II, was the head of the Truck Committee, which was an unusual honor for both father and son. His father was an engineer for Pierce-Arrow, and he served the military in the early 1930s through the end of World War II as White Motor’s manager of federal programs. For example, he was instrumental in inventing the front roller for the White Motor A-10 Halftrack (used often and effectively to transport our troops in World War II). After his work, the design of the front bumper ensured that when the Halftrack drove into a ditch, it would not stick there (as it did before his design change), but would stay moving and come up on the other side intact.

Ben tried twice to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II but BFGoodrich would not let him. They asked him to spearhead the research on our airplane de-icers to be used by American bomber planes over Germany during the war. He traveled to Mount Washington, N.H., and Minneapolis, two of the coldest places in the U.S. to test these devices during the war. 

There are four main achievements that he was especially proud of that his team worked on: multi-disc airplane brakes, for which he holds 14 patents with BFGoodrich; pneumatic and electronic de-icer systems, which he worked on almost exclusively during World War II; jet aircraft escape systems, the prototype of which his team sold to Boeing, which manufactured them (they are the slides that commercial planes use now during emergency landings); and puncture-proof pneumatic tires and bulletproof fuel tanks (during World War II) made of reconstituted rubber.

Ben met the love of his life, Frances Goode Jones, at a high school blind date at Cleveland Heights High School with her twin sister, Barbara. He was happily married to Frances for 67 years and when Barbara’s husband, a decorated World War II aviator, passed away, Barbara came to live near Ben and Frances for more than 30 years. The three of them went everywhere together and were always virtually inseparable.

In addition to his son Robert and Bob’s wife Debbie, whom he adored, Ben is survived by two beloved grandchildren, Kristen Elizabeth Jones and Robert Benson Jones Jr., both of whom are physicians.

Bob and his family have been truly blessed to have Ben so close, so safe and well-cared for at Waverly Heights in the Philadelphia suburbs, and surrounded by so many dear friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests any contributions may be made to the Tin Whistles Foundation in Pinehurst, attn: John McClain.