No. 1 -- Mayor's death shocks community; his wife finishes term

Friday, December 30, 2011
Popular Linton Mayor Tom Jones passed away in March of this year after returning home from a business trip to Washington D.C. Jones was in the final year of his second term, and had decided not to run for re-election. His wife, Patti, finished out his term. Jones is pictured above throwing candy at the Freedom Festival parade. (GCDW file photo)

The city of Linton was in shock and mourning at the sudden death of two-term mayor Tom Jones on March 3.

The death of Mayor Jones and transition of the office to his wife, Patti, was voted by the Greene County Daily World staff as the No. 1 local news story of 2011.

Jones had served the city as mayor since 2004.

Patti Jones

The mayor/businessman was in the last year of his term and had announced he was not going to seek re-election to a third term.

The 55-year-old Jones died at his home on East Vincennes St. during the early morning hours. The mayor and three other city officials had just returned from a trip to Washington D.C.

The mayor, clerk-treasurer Jack Shelton, Utilities Comptroller David Sisk, and general manager of utilities Shawn Clifford had returned home after meeting with federal lawmakers as part of an annual lobbying trip arranged by the American Public Power Association (APPA) and The Indiana Municipal Power Agency (IMPA).

Greene County Coroner Sherry Wilson reported, "It was heart failure and stress from the trip and being sick. He'd had flu symptoms before the trip to Washington, D.C. ... it was totally a natural death."

Jones was the second sitting mayor to die while in office. The other was A.M. Risher, who passed away in 1976.

Jones was the architect of one of the biggest local political victories in the city's history.

In his first bid for political office, Jones successfully defeated the late Jimmie K. Wright in the 2003 May Primary election, putting an end to a two-decade city hall dynasty. Jones won all but one precinct.

He went on to beat his Republican opponent - John Sexton - by a more than three-to-one margin to win the major's seat.

Jones defeated Republican challenger Kelly Fogelsong handily in his re-election in the 2007 General Election.

Many said the late mayor was always looking forward.

"I would say that he was somewhat of a visionary," said Sisk. "He was always looking ahead, a year, five years, 10 years ahead."

"He was certainly not self-serving. I can tell you that we weren't always in agreement with some issues, but I never thought he did anything from a self-serving standpoint. He always felt what he was doing was best for the city. You can't always say that about all politicians."

Aside from his duties as a full-time mayor, Jones and his wife, Patti, owned and operated Linton Sporting Goods.

News of the death of two-term mayor sent shockwaves of disbelief through the city offices.

The mayor's secretary, Fran Abbott, said, "Tom was a kind boss. He liked to see things move and was always wanting to say what are we going to do next. Let's do something and make it (the city) better. He really had a drive to make Linton better and correct some of the things that needed to be corrected."

His friends also spoke highly of him.

"We're all going to miss him," Tim Taylor said. "The man had so much energy. I don't know how anybody kept up with him. He also had a passion for the city that I don't know that I've seen anywhere."

After the mayor's death, city council president Linda Bedwell was appointed interim mayor until the party could caucus and pick a successor.

In late March, Tom's wife, Patti, was unanimously chosen by Democrat Party precinct committeemen to fill out her husband's term, which ends Saturday.

"I was told to think about it. ... My gut reaction at first was real mixed, but after thinking about it I feel it was the thing Tom would want me to do," she explained.

In May, former Mayor Jones was presented with Rotary International's highest award posthumously during a luncheon program at Saron United Church of Christ.

He was also honored with a state resolution that was presented by former District 62 State Rep. Jerry Denbo.

While in office, Patti Jones helped carry on many of the projects her husband had started or dreamed about.

Under her administration, the city obtained a $250,000 grant slated to improve sidewalks.

She's worked hard to better the circumstances of local kids. She also served as a tireless advocate of the progress toward the planned baseball and softball complexes - a $500,000 project that took a major step forward under her tenure with the acreage donated toward the effort.

The Indiana Association of Cities and Town and the state's mayors also began what's a planned annual contribution of $1,000 toward the leagues in the memory of Jones, raised from fees collected during the golf scrambles the late mayor loved and excelled at playing.

Patti Jones also worked with the Linton Elks and LuAnn Shonk, receiving a grant that will bring $30,000 to the Linton City Parks, which helped install mandated handicapped accessibility equipment in the A.M. Risher Pool.

At her last city council meeting earlier this month Patti Jones was emotional and summed up her tenure as mayor by saying, "It's been an honor to have this opportunity I never expected to have. At the same time, I'd give a million dollars to have never had to do it, because I sure miss the gentleman who belongs here tonight."