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U of M crossing guard brightens students’ day

Bob Jones

It’s a torrid Tuesday afternoon on the corner of Goodman and Southern. Crossing guard Bob Jones stands on the side of the road as a bead of sweat trickles past his mustache and meets the toothpick dangling from his mouth.

The temperature is 91 degrees, and the bright neon vest covering his buttondown isn’t doing him any favors. But Jones isn’t complaining. A smile spreads on his face as a Toyota quickly approaches. 

He steps onto the street, the red stop sign flying up in his hand and the whistle blowing from his mouth, loud and clear. The Camry slows to a halt.

A student hustles over the crosswalk and Jones is quick to greet him.

“Have a good one now, have a good one.â€

“Thank you,†the student replied.

“You’re more than welcome.â€

After the student and Camry have moved, the Blue Line passes by and the driver makes sure to honk and wave at his favorite crossing guard. Jones returns the favor, smiling and giving him the go-ahead gesture.

When the Blue Line has passed through, University of Memphis student Maryle Wingfield, 22, heads to her car, and makes sure to say hello to Jones.

“He makes my day just about every day I see him,†the early childhood education major said. “And he’s super positive just about every time I see him.â€

Many other students have observed the positivity and they appreciate every bit of it.

“He’s just a very warm soul who is always spreading joy and warmth,†said U of M junior Becky Longoria, 20, a child development family studies major. “He’s a friend to everyone.â€

U of M senior Elizabeth Nguyen, 21, a finance major, agrees with Longoria.

“He’s really sweet and calm,†she said. “Most crossing guards are aggressive, but he’s not.â€

And yet when looking at Jones’s past, the abundance of positive energy and lack of aggression could be seen as surprising.

Born on Sept. 27, 1946, Jones was raised in Memphis by his parents, a railroad worker and a hairdresser.

With both parents working full-time, he spent much of his time with his sisters. Jones would later meet his future wife, Bette. In 1964, he graduated from high school, and in October of that same year, he joined the military.

“There was nothing really going on,†he said. “I went ahead and joined because it would be something different,†he said. “You learn a lot of things that you need to learn, and you’re being productive.â€

Jones never imagined, though, that he would be sent overseas. “It just wasn’t on my mind,†he said. But in 1965 the conflict in Vietnam escalated, and Jones would go on to spend two tours there.

Working as an RTO (Radio Telephone Operator), he transferred messages and made sure all forms of communication ran smoothly. If there was a signal detachment and wires needed to be put up or stretched out, it was on Jones.

And it wasn’t just the stressful work that got to him. In his two tours, the veteran saw multiple friends fall in battle.

“It was a bad dream,†he said. “I lost several of my partners. Three of us didn’t make it, and four of us did.â€

After his discharge in 1968, Jones tried to shake off the perils of war. He attended Shelby State, now Southwest Community College, for a time, and married Bette. The two had five children, four girls and one boy, and for a time, things seemed to be looking up.

But after just 11 years of marriage, Bette unexpectedly passed away. It’s a difficult subject for Jones, and one he still rarely discusses.

“Things happen,†he said. “Things happen that you have no control over.â€

With his wife gone, Jones focused on other aspects of his life. For 23 years, he worked as a shipping and receiving clerk for nexAir.

But after retirement he found himself with too much time on his hands. So two years ago he took the U of M crossing guard position he holds today, a position that provides him not only work, but joy as well.

“They smile, I smile, they smile back, and it’s energizing,†he said. “I look forward to it.â€

On Tuesday afternoon Jones raises his stop sign and blows his whistle. Cars come to a stop and a solemn student passes over.

But her sullen look is soon met with a smile. “Alright, alright, have a good one now,†he tells her. She looks down as her teeth flash and her frown reverses. Jones has done his job. He lowers his stop sign, drops his whistle, and with a friendly wave, gives the cars the go-ahead.

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