His name today is synonymous with an award-winning elementary school, a school that has garnered a reputation worthy of its nomenclature.
Dr. Nathaniel Hawthorne Jones was a prominent Ocala physician, beloved in the community from the time he opened his practice in 1926 to his tragic death in 1970. He was the first African-American on staff at what was then called Munroe Memorial Hospital (now AdventHealth Ocala), trustee and treasurer at Harvey’s Fellowship Homes, Inc. (a low rent project for elderly people), member of the Ocala Housing Authority and Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church. Jones was also a free and accepted Mason, Pride of Ocala Lodge 486.
Often the school that bears his name is noted to have been named so in his memory, but this is erroneous. When the school opened in 1960, the school was named Dr. N.H. Jones Upper Elementary in his honor while he was still alive.
Jones had an impeccable reputation and at his memorial service the day after his death, community leaders and lay citizens alike showed up at the school to mourn and celebrate his life. Among them was Police Chief Kenneth Alvarez, who was quoted by the Ocala Star-Banner as saying, “I know of no one more respected in the community, not only as a doctor but as a citizen.”
Daisy Pinder remembers Dr. Jones – he was the attending doctor for the premature birth of her daughter Lisa in 1964. “He was very passionate, and he was very down to earth,” Pinder said. “He came to my house and he used to make daily reports to me about her in the hospital because she had to stay in the hospital for about six weeks.”
Pinder says she remembers the time they brought her sick brother-in-law up from Brooksville to be treated by Dr. Jones on a Sunday.
“He took him to his office downtown and treated him. He was one of those kinds of doctors.
“That’s why he was such an easy target.”
On the night of Oct. 15, 1970, a pair of young men claiming to need medical attention, arrived at Jones’ house then were able to force their way in. They held Jones’ wife hostage at gunpoint and forced him and his two daughters into a bedroom where Jones was instructed to get money from a dresser drawer. Instead of money, Dr. Jones pulled a gun from the drawer and a fight ensued.
During the fight, Jones was shot five times and his daughter, Olivia was shot once. Olivia was treated and released, but Jones was pronounced dead upon arrival at Munroe.
A stunned community mourned the loss of Dr. Jones at the next day’s memorial service. Thomas George, then principal at N.H. Jones Elementary, claimed at the service Dr. Jones “was the attending physician at the birth of almost 90 percent of the children attending the school.”
In the years since his death, Dr. Jones’ legacy has been honored by all the children he helped bring into the world and by the school that keeps his name in prominent display. In 1994, the Marion County School Board converted the school to magnet status and three times it has been selected a National Blue Ribbon school. When the school earned the honor in 2011, it was the only public school in the state of Florida with the distinction.
And what of that premature baby that Dr. Jones attended to back in 1964? She grew up to be Lisa Coleman, now assistant principal at a local elementary school – that’s right, Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary.