Home Local News UNC Pembroke mourns the passing of former Trustee Dr. Jim Jones

UNC Pembroke mourns the passing of former Trustee Dr. Jim Jones

Dr. Jim Jones, former chairman of UNCP Board of Trustees. Photo by UNCP

Former UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees Chairman James “Jim” Jones, a family medicine pioneer who grew and transformed medical education in North Carolina over the past five decades, passed away on Tuesday. He was 89.

The Pembroke, N.C., native founded the family medicine program at East Carolina University’s medical school, then led the department for 20 years. A trailblazer in the medical profession, Dr. Jones dedicated his life to training and recruiting physicians to deliver care to poor and rural communities in eastern North Carolina. A colleague once described him as “probably the single most influential figure in North Carolina for primary care of this generation.”

“We mourn the loss of a great UNCP supporter, Dr. Jim Jones,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.

“He lived an incredible life of service and is someone I consider a role model, mentor and dear friend. His involvement at UNCP and his accomplished career in family medicine have and will continue to impact lives for generations to come. He will be missed by many, and we continue to keep his wife, Michelle, and family in our thoughts and prayers,” Cummings said.

Dr. Jones served in multiple board leadership roles at UNCP, including a five-year stint on the Board of Trustees from 2013 to 2018. He was instrumental in establishing a relationship between UNCP and Brody, setting aside guaranteed seats for UNCP and other minority graduates. He gave the keynote address at the 2019 commencement and listed an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from UNCP among his career highlights.

A member of the Lumbee Tribe, Jones was five years old when his parents left him and his four brothers and sisters with their grandparents. He was inspired by the life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer to become a doctor and make service a focal point of his career. He was the first American Indian to graduate from Wake Forest College and Bowman Gray School of Medicine.

Lumbee Tribal Chairman John L. Lowery said the tribe has lost a “giant among our people.” Lowery interviewed Jones in January as part of the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Hayes Pond.

“Even as a graduate student working on his medical degree, Dr. Jones drove home to help protect his homeland and his people, and that is the spirit he took with him throughout the rest of his life,” Lowery said.


“Dr. Jones was a leader, pioneer, visionary and a builder of many different institutions and organizations to improve health outcomes across our state. This is truly a sad day for the Lumbee people, the health community, the education community and so many others Dr. Jones touched during his remarkable life.”

A self-proclaimed country doctor who started his practice in Jacksonville, N.C., Jones became one of the state’s most forceful advocates for establishing a new discipline called “family medicine” in the 1960s. He was named president of the N.C. Academy of Family Physicians, later founded the medicine program at ECU’s new medical school and prodded UNC, Wake Forest and Duke to start similar programs.

“Dr. James G. “Jim” Jones dedicated his life to serving others,” said ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers. “Through his work as a family physician and a leader in academic medicine, Dr. Jones truly embodied the spirit of ECU’s mission with a steadfast commitment to providing high-quality access to health care. Naming the Family Medicine Chair’s Suite for Dr. Jones earlier this year is a daily reminder of his legacy and how so many continue to benefit from his visionary leadership.”

In 1988, he was named president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, where he became a national crusader for family medicine. He inspired students to choose their specialty, create the establishment of additional residency programs and encourage other family physicians to become leaders throughout the country.

In 1994, he was appointed by the governor as North Carolina’s top health-planning director and advocated greater accessibility and affordability for health care.

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend, Dr. Jim Jones. He was a visionary leader whose contributions to North Carolina will be felt for generations to come. I am grateful for his life and send my deepest sympathies to his family during this difficult time,” said former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr.

ECU honored Jones earlier this year by unveiling the James G. “Jim” Jones Chair’s Suite in the Department of Family Medicine. In recognition of his long and distinguished career, friends and colleagues established the Dr. James G. Jones Distinguished Professorship in Family Medicine at the ECU Brody School of Medicine––ensuring that Jones’ legacy lives on for generations.

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