When Susan Jones was 8 years old she read Elisabeth Elliot’s book, “Through Gates of Splendor” about five young missionaries who went to South America in 1956 to spread God’s love to a violent remote tribe.
The five men were killed.
“I was touched by their dedication and sacrifice, and inspired by a quote from Jim Elliot, one of the missionaries,” she says. “‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’”
“After I read their story I knew I wanted to do mission work, and later married someone that shared this missionary vision.”
She and her husband, William Jones, felt God leading them to volunteer as missionaries in remote villages in Guatemala and Mexico.
After witnessing children dying from malnutrition, they founded a nutrition and healthcare program, Mano con Mano. They volunteered for 14 years, living there full time for the past four years, until Jones’ husband became terminally ill with cancer and passed away.
“I thought we would spend the rest of our years being missionaries in Guatemala,” she says, tearing up and then pausing.
She regains her strength, and goes on.
“God still had a plan for me, and I know that I am now called to provide healthcare on Whidbey Island. It doesn’t matter where I am, as long as I can do something that makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Grethe Cammermeyer, a retired Army colonel who spent 30 years in the Veterans Administration healthcare system and is now a hospital board commissioner on Whidbey Island, says Jones is one of those unique people who is genuinely kind, caring and giving.
“She has a gentle quietness and exploring curiosity as she provides extraordinary patient care as a nurse practitioner in private practice,” Cammermeyer says, noting Jones’ work with clients in her own clinic in Freeland and with residents at Saratoga View Adult Home.
“Susan’s gift of caring for fellow human beings makes us all richer for knowing her, and the world would be better if we emulated her,” Cammermeyer adds.
“Life is a journey,” Jones says of her many experiences, many that would be too much for anyone to ever want to endure. “Somehow it’s worth it if my pain can benefit someone else someday. I don’t think our tears are ever wasted.”
She recalls part of her past that she uses to help others.
“My husband and I were assaulted in our home in the middle of the night and badly beaten and were both hospitalized. The worst part of all is after the attackers left, we were afraid they had harmed our 1-year-old. Once my husband found him asleep we could breathe and handle anything after that.
“This experience gave me a better understanding of anxiety and PTSD. I really believe the worst experiences can thrust us into positive action to help others,” she says.
There were other trials and tests, as well.
“When I hear of people needing food or other essentials, I am empathic, as my husband and I were recipients of such charity. My husband and I were so poor while we were first married, going to school, working as volunteers and little pay that I was not below dumpster diving for food. We were the recipient of food from a church food pantry. This was very hard, but with two small children I learned to swallow my pride, be grateful and say thank you.
“I remember once when a neighbor came by with several bags full of groceries,” Jones recalls. “She begged us to take the bags of groceries telling us she won them in a cake walk. Years later I realized what a true gift she gave us when I mentioned this to my sister, who said people don’t win groceries at a cake walk — they win cake!”
She smiles and laughs.
“One time my sister observed me taking a spotted, unpeeled banana out of the trash. She said seriously, ‘Eating food out of the trash is not normal. You need therapy!’
“Well, I don’t know about needing therapy, but I cannot stand to see anything wasted. I have always salvaged and reused everything.”
She laughs again.
“I try to laugh a lot, I look better in a smile: It’s an instant facelift.”
Susan causes others to smile, says R. House.
“She is a gifted nurse practitioner and exudes compassion and concern as a human being and she is smart and insightful,” House says. “She has become a dear and loving friend to my husband Allen, who has a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident seven years ago. After his first visit with Susan I knew she ‘got it’ and understood my husband and his challenges completely, while treating him with compassion and respect, which we did not always experience in the medical field.
“In my 72 years I have never met a finer person,” she says.
Jones says she has some understanding of brain trauma, as her brother became so severely brain damaged from an accident that he had been in a state hospital ever since.
“As difficult as this has been for our family, it has given me some personal insight into what brain injuries do to the whole family,” she says.
Pastor Dick Jeffers of Christian Life Ministry Center, writes, “A community is always best served when people living there invest their lives in helping others. It’s always inspiring to be around them.”
“Susan is an example of someone who invests in the needs of others,” Jeffers says. “She does so in her practice here on South Whidbey, as well as through her international efforts. She follows the example set by Christ, who came not to be served but to serve and give His life. Her example of giving her life away … inspires me!”
Jones hopes she can continue to do God’s work, whatever that will be.
“I know I am not here to be served, but to serve. I have failed many times and I am sure I will again. When something doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.
“I don’t ever want to stop doing something for fear of failure. I think bravery is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”
Jones mentions that she was afraid to let herself love again, because it hurt so much to lose her husband of 35 years. This summer she took a flying leap into marriage to a longtime family friend.
She is so thankful that her fear of another loss didn’t rob her of the chance to experience new joy.
She says she reflects often on those five brave missionaries who were killed in 1956, as their story gives her courage, strength and inspiration.
Susan Julie Jones
Born: Oct. 29, 1955 in Berkeley, Calif.
Family: Her father was a lawyer who worked with troubled youths; her mother was an artist and art teacher. Two siblings: Michelle and Tim. First husband; William Robert Jones, they were married 35 years and had two children, Dr. Graham Jones, 33 and Colin Jones, 31. Six grandchildren, 6 and younger, all in Kirkland. She recently married Stephen Allan Jones. (Yes, both husbands happen to have the same last name). She now has five wonderful stepchildren.
Education: Dublin High School, Dublin, Calif. UC Berkeley, University of Washington, UCLA.
Years on Whidbey: Frequent visitor since 1990, moved here full-time in 2007.
Hobbies: If I had time I would enjoy biking, running, swimming, hiking, traveling, learning languages, learning about other cultures, knitting, quilting, canning, cooking, entertaining, making jewelry, playing the guitar, singing, dancing, fixing broken things, refinishing furniture, volunteering with Mano con Mano (www.manoconmano.org) and recycling.
South Whidbey people you admire?
Deidre Ward, Dr. Tom Harris, Dr. Grethe Cammermeyer, Pastor Dick Jeffers, Ann O’Farrell, Renee Yanke, Carol Bergquist; there are too many to name!
What do you wish you could do over again?
“I wish I had been home with my children more. I had to work out of necessity, and the needs of the hospital kept me working too many hours. I learned that someone else could replace me as a nurse, but no one could replace me as a mom.”
What does it mean to have power?
I think power is love and loving others.”
If you could be any inanimate object for a day?
“I would like to be a rug, to just lie still and listen, and feel the feet of others as they travel their journey.”
What is the best way to conduct our lives?
“Live like it is our last day. Love like we will never see someone again. Give like we have no limits. Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.”
Anyone you had to work to forgive?
“Yes, the burglar men that broke into our home. I pray for them and hope they have forgiven themselves and gone on to lead good lives.”
“The Bible. It’s full of stories, history, words of encouragement, rules to live by and heroes to emulate.”
What others say about Susan Jones
“After a couple of my doctors decided to leave the local practice I was handed over to Susan Jones. I’m glad the other two docs left town.
Susan has medical savvy and more; she has a missionary heart. I mean, she not only sends you on your way with a prescription for whatever ails you, she spends enough time to ask questions, listen to your answers, probe for more info, and through all this you become aware she knows she is not God but one who prays to God, prays for her patients and rejoices with them when the tests prove negative, aches with them when they don’t and lets them know it.
She and her husband act on their faith by sharing medical skills, time and money at a mission in Central America. The atmosphere of her medical office reflects that spirit of caring. Along with all that, she smiles when she comes into that little waiting room; I’ve rarely had a doctor who could do that. Strangely enough when it does happen, you feel glad you kept the appointment.”
Pastor Dennis Hanson, Trinity Lutheran Church
“Our community is blessed to have a real servant — Susan J. Jones. She somehow makes you feel as if you are the most important person there is … and that you are deserving of her time, no matter what she is personally going through. I am so blessed to be able to serve along side her. She has inspired me to a greater level of commitment in this service by observing her love and care and dedication to those in her practice.
I have seen her exhausted, ill and emotionally drained, yet she always has time, a listening ear and energy that comes from above. She literally runs circles around me.
She is a mother to two grown, married young men, and grandma to five (almost six) grandchildren, that she often babysits. She moved her parents nearby in Freeland so she can stay close with them. She is active in her church and several community efforts, as well as Mano con Mano. Susan gives her personal cell phone to her patients so that they are never more than a call away.
She is a hero not only to me, but to countless people.”
Deidre Ward, healthcare provider
“I had the honor and privilege of working with Susan Jones. I am a family nurse practitioner student and Susan was the first nurse practitioner mentor I had during my program at the University of Washington. I truly grew to admire her strength, grace and beauty of character, wisdom and compassion for others. I also admired the bond that she has with her patients.
She is a community leader by providing excellent and evidenced-based healthcare to her patients by connecting community members together, and by setting a positive example of strength, conviction and love.
I feel very fortunate and blessed to have worked with such an incredible mentor.”
Jenny Robbins, student
“Susan is one of those remarkable people who gracefully combine deep inner strength, both fortitude and the courage of her convictions, with a gentle compassion in all her relationships. When serving a remote medical clinic in Guatemala, she and her now deceased husband Memo could not accept that many children were extremely ill and dying basically because of malnutrition. So they began a nutrition center for the area, which is still thriving and serving.
As a medical provider, she is exceptionally responsive, interested, kind and competent. Susan is a woman of deep Christian faith, hope and action.”
Dianne Shiner, South Whidbey resident and friend
“Susan is someone I respect and admire. Her values are evident from the exemplary life she lives. She provides hope to the desperately poorest of the poor in Guatemala.
Here at home she provides care with her altruistic endeavors for all and to those who cannot pay.
One of the most distinguishing aspects of her patient care is her intentional and respectful devotion to activity and considerately listening, then articulating clearly her solutions-orientated prognosis and course for treatment. Contrast that with the person in the white smock and the clipboard (or laptop) looking at their watch and trying to get out the door. She has taken the riskier business model of private practice rather than being under the umbrella of a larger organization.
Her courage, tenacity and devotion to others is a shining example of how each of us can take the talents and opportunities we are given and make a difference in others lives while enriching our own.”
Richard Newton, businessman and South Whidbey resident