On April 29, 1990, in Humble, Texas, Zachary Ross Jones was born to Larry and Connie Jones. From the time he was a toddler and for the rest of his life, it was clear to all who knew him that Zach Jones was an extraordinary person, unusual in his strength of spirit, sensitivity, and perception.
On Thursday, May 4, 2006, at age sixteen, Zach was struck and for eight days did battle with a terrible disease — rabies. Zach lost that courageous earthly battle on Friday, May 12, 2006. However, Zach Jones is defined not by the way he died, but by the way he lived.
“Twinkle” may be the best word to describe what all of us saw in Zach — a twinkle in his eye and a knowing smile. He so loved to smile. But what defined “Z” was not his twinkle or his smile. What defined him was his character. He was not only a well-mannered gentleman, but he was also a gentleman. It was Zach’s character that touched his community, that brought it together in the midst of an unspeakable struggle to speak with one voice, one message that was literally worn on its back — “Pray for Zach.” Z’s character had no room for harsh judgment of anyone, and his empathy for family and friends seemed boundless. For those of us who monitored the Care Page during his struggle, Zach’s character was the common thread through all of the messages. It shone like a beacon during that last week. Whether Z was befriending a young man when it was not the most popular choice, helping classmates at school, or warming milk for a stray cat that he found at his grandmother’s house, he was a kind, gentle soul who made us proud to be his parents, relatives, and friends.
When we close our eyes and see Zach, we all see something a little different. Perhaps that was his gift to us. Some see him standing healthy and strong, muscles coiled, on the starting block at a swim meet, about to unleash a beautiful but powerful butterfly stroke. Others see him in a football uniform, tearing across the field and about to make a running back wish he had fumbled the handoff. Some see a fun loving friend who was full of jokes, and still others see a grandson, nephew or cousin who lit their lives at Thanksgiving; someone who enjoyed talking about high school football, and who loved the smell of pumpkin candles. Whether at school or practice, having adventures on the ranch with his beloved Papa and cousin Alex, spending time with his West Virginia family during holidays, or just working out at the gym with his dad, Zach devoted himself to what he was doing.
Zach loved being a kid. He not only had character, he was a Character. He danced, even when the camera was on. He knew what friendship and adventure meant; and as it turns out, sometimes it meant running a go-cart into a thorn bush, or getting a golf cart stuck in the mud, crashing his bike into a ditch, standing in front of the mirror with his shirt off playing his new guitar, or making a hasty retreat during a pool fight and finding that his trunks had remained in the pool.
Zach was also wonderfully mischievous. In fact, there is some evidence that his mischievous streak was hereditary. Zach’s cousin Greg has admitted that at the 2005 Jones family reunion, he and Zach found a high perch and bombed people with water balloons. Now, this might be just another example of mischievousness but for the fact that long ago Zach’s dad got into some significant trouble for doing the same thing with tomatoes, and his Uncle Marshall’s weapon of choice was snowballs. Given those genetics, Zach probably deserves a pardon for the water balloons.
And if you listen closely, you will hear Zach laughing still today because of a discovery that was made the weekend after his passing. Zach had always been intuitive, but in his last few weeks on earth he seemed to know what was coming from his mom and dad before they talked with him. He just never seemed surprised. Then, the day after we lost him, his mom found a baby monitor transmitter tucked behind a piece of furniture in their living room. The receiver half of the monitor was in Z’s room. Apparently, some weeks earlier Zach’s buddy and neighbor, “little Zac,” helped him to position the monitor strategically so that he could hear conversations from all over the house. No doubt Zach was intuitive, but in this instance it was radio-assisted intuition.
Zach did not suffer the awkwardness experienced by many teenagers who feel adulthood racing toward them. His firm handshake, eye contact, and quiet confidence and politeness were ever present when he greeted folks of all ages. The fact is Zach often put adults at ease in situations when the adults should have been carrying that responsibility. He was also selfless. You could see it when he unfailingly stopped to open doors for people or to lend a hand to someone in a moment of need.
These are the qualities that made Zach’s mom and dad so proud of him. He brought them sixteen years of unceasing joy, filling them with happiness and creating the memories that sustain them now. In triumph, they rejoiced as a family, and as a family they met their challenges. For them, Zach’s quiet determination and strength of character is as strong a positive life force today as it ever was.
Today and into the future we will continue to celebrate a life unfinished. Zach Jones was unique because he sought success for, and saw the best in, everyone with whom he came in contact. Zach took pride in his healthy lifestyle and was a conscientious student. He had not missed a day of school since fourth grade and had hoped to maintain that perfect attendance through graduation. Had this battle turned out differently, Zach would have graduated from high school and college, and traveled the world with a backpack. He dreamed of attending Baylor University and becoming a doctor. Healing may have been his calling. It certainly would have been consistent with who he was.
For those readers who are not yet adults, know this: you can honor Zach Jones by devoting yourself to your life and your future just as he did. Make a plan. When you fall — and you will — pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward. Zach had a plan. A few weeks before his death, he wrote a poem for his English class that briefly describes his plan.
Zach left another friend behind when he slipped from our grasp – his beloved dog, Poncho. If you are one of those who get to see Poncho, take a moment and rub his head or his ears. In his eyes and demeanor, you may see a little of Z. Zach would appreciate it. He loved all animals and Poncho best of all.
Many of you reading this now have helped us to find the words to describe Zach. You left those words on Zach’s Care page. You said Zach was amazingly charming, sweet, cool, special, handsome, determined, strong, healthy, classy, terrific, gentle, and down to earth. You said he was a favorite cousin and student, a best friend, like a brother, a hero, the type of young man that mothers hoped their boys would grow to become, and most of all, you said, he was so much fun.
We give thanks for the joy that was Zach Jones. We rejoice that we knew the twinkle and the smile that he so often let us see. Larry and Connie raised a son who embodied so many of the qualities that we struggle to find in ourselves, qualities that flowed so naturally from Zach. It was a blessed joy to watch them be his parents. They helped him to accomplish so much in such a short period of time. Zach was a keeper. His parents took such pleasure in his company. How wonderful it must have been, the quiet moments, secrets, and private jokes that the three of them shared.
When Zach slipped from our earthly grasp, Heaven certainly gained a new angel. But every day now is a hard day for the rest of us. Zach, buddy, our hearts are broken because we were not finished with you. And as we continue to pick up the pieces, our promise to you is that we will try. We will try, because we know that you would try. You improved us all; we are better for having known you; and each of us will miss you forever. You had a powerful love for life. In your honor we will move forward, remember the good times, try to make a difference, and most of all, we will keep laughing.