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DEATH OF DON JONES (article first published : 2006-04-21)

The Pietermaritzburg music and theatre scenes have lost both an ardent supporter and a fine performer with the recent death of Don Jones after a short illness, at the age of 73. The Witness carried the news of his death, referring to his 49 years as an employee of the newspaper but for many people in the city, it was his contribution to the arts that will be particularly remembered.

He was a member of the Philharmonic Choir, the Maritzburg Singers and the Charles Dickens Singers - where he was a founder member and sang with the group for 20 years. Natalie Fish, choir director and a passionate musician herself, said this week of Jones that, "like the true Welshman that he was, Donald loved to sing."

"He loved to get things right, and never hesitated to ask for repetition of his bass part," she said. "Two things were typical of Don: he never failed to thank the choir leader at the end of a practice and he could always be relied on to raise a laugh during any torrid period of rehearsal."

Besides singing, Don Jones acted in and directed many plays and shows, particularly in the heyday of the old Cygnet Theatre in the 1970s. Actress Vera Clare recalls Jones at that time. "He had an incredible sense of humour which he shared with his twin brother, Phil, who was also a comedic actor of some note," she says. "He was so loveable, so deeply committed to the theatre in all its forms. We would talk theatre for hours as we became firm friends."

The two only acted together once, in Peter Mitchell's production of The Importance of Being Earnest in 2001, where Jones made his last appearance in a play. Mitchell recalls Jones as "one of the world's gentlemen", and remembers how he hated to see people on stage with unpolished shoes. "It was one of his bugbears, and our students knew it. They would make sure their shoes were polished if they knew Don was coming to see a performance."

Although he was strict as a director, recalls his close friend Basil Munro who was directed by Jones in Trial by Surgery, the show that was staged for the opening of the current Grey's Hospital and later went to the Grahamstown Festival, he was always full of fun and humour. He also did a lot of charity work with the various singing groups of which he was a member.

Another old friend who worked with Jones over many years, Garth Anderson, recalled Jones as "the most generous audience I have ever performed to, and a dear friend. And I so admired Don's wonderful stage presence - his unique and instantly recognisable persona could make an audience burst into spontaneous laughter." Anderson recalled Jones's performances in productions in Pietermaritzburg ranging from The Kingfisher to A Midsummer Night's Dream and Still Life, saying: "He never stopped having fun and he never stopped giving fun to his audience."

Anderson also spoke of the kindness and support he received from Jones earlier this year when he himself was ill, having to have a leg amputated due to complications from diabetes. "Don was in the front row to give me friendship and support, and I could never thank him enough for that," said Anderson. "He was a very special man."

Remembered for his kindness and humour, Donald Jones's polished shoes will be hard to fill in the local arts scene. He leaves his wife, Wendy, who, like him has a long-standing and deep commitment to the local music scene.

(Editor’s Note: When my family moved to Pietermaritzburg from Kenya in the early 60’s, I joined the Pietermaritzburg Philharmonic Society and there met and befriended Don and his brother Phil. Although my Welsh connections weren’t as strong as theirs, we had much fun talking “of the Valley” in broad accents! I worked with both of them on numerous musicals and, after Phil’s death, still kept in touch with Don and Wendy. Don always managed to be around when we were setting up The ArtStand at the Hilton Festival, offering helpful – and sometimes wildly unhelpful – advice! I shall miss him ... and his delicious Welsh lilt. – Caroline Smart)




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