Legendary country morning jock Rhubarb Jones, 65, dies of a heart attack

This was posted Sunday, April 2, 2017 by RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Georgia Radio Hall of Fame morning jock and Kennesaw State University senior development officer Warren "Rhubarb" Jones died of a heart attack Sunday afternoon in Haralson County. He was 65.

Funeral home owner Tammy Miller of the Miller Funeral Home in Tallapoosa confirmed the news to me this afternoon. Miller is handling his funeral arrangements. Visitation is at Mill Town Music Hall of Bremen Wednesday from 3 to 9 p.m. and services are for Thursday at 2 p.m. at the same location (First Baptist Church at Tallapoosa was too small), said Tallapoosa mayor William "Pete" Bridges Monday. (More details about what happened that weekend here.)

Jones, affectionately called "Rhuby" by his friends, was a morning host at country station Y106 and then Eagle 106.7 from 1985 to 2008.

"He wasn't a radio jock," said Steve Mitchell, who was his producer for three years and then his program director at Y106. "He was a big personality. He was instant friends with everybody he met. It didn't matter if it was the governor of Georgia or some little kid who had leukemia. He had this big ol' heart."

And the fact he died at a Walmart was apropos, Mitchell said. "He met his last wife [Donna] at a Walmart. He loved Walmart. He was a Walmart kind of guy."

Keith Connors, who now works in radio in Tampa/St. Petersburg, was one of Jones' early radio show co hosts on Y106 in the late 1980s. "If he was having fun, I knew the listeners were having fun," he said.

Jones also had a special connection with the country artists he got to know over the years. Connors remember being at the CMA Awards in 2000 when Brad Paisley won the New Artist Award, then called the Horizon Award. In front of Connors, Paisley took a crumpled Post It note out of his pocket. On it, was a note Jones had written a year earlier predicting that Paisley would win that award.

A year later, Jones entered the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame. Charlie Daniels and Marietta native Travis Tritt, country stars who attended his charity events over the years and became dear friends offered condolences  on Twitter.

Here is Jones talking to Daniels:

Soon after Jones was laid off at Eagle on February 29, 2008, he began working at Kennesaw State University as an assistant professor of mass communications, then a development officer. He said he always had a "Plan B" as his radio career was winding down, taking classes at Rome's Shorter University (then Shorter College) at its north Atlanta campus in preparation for his new career in education.

"He had never taught a class in his life," said Josh Azriel, Kennesaw State University director of graduate studies who ran the journalism program when Jones became a teacher. "But he worked hard to learn. He sought my advice all the time. The students loved him. He ignited passion in them for broadcasting and radio. We'd share students and we would all do Rhubarb impressions. He loved that!"

"The guy could spin a yarn," Azriel added. "He was a good ol' boy in the best possible way. Telling great stories and having a heart of gold."

Rhubarb Jones at Kennesaw State University in 2010. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/ rho@ajc.com

In 2010, Jones said, of his students: “You get attached to them. You start looking at them as your own kids. Some of them just need a little encouragement. I also remind them this is no longer a little community college. It’s now the third largest university in Georgia.”

For a time, he was director of special events and helped Kennesaw State launch its football program. Azriel said Jones had recently gotten back to teaching.

My colleague Ellen Eldridge was a student of Jones. She pays homage to him here. 

He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame in 2007. "He was one of the founding members of the group," said John Long, who runs the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame. "He contributed greatly to our organization. I'm just in shock. I'm crushed."

I last saw Jones last July. He invited me to speak at a Kiwanis luncheon in Kennesaw and I spent an hour talking about my job and the media business. We had a fun time. I've also been a guest instructor a couple of times for his journalism classes. He was special. Whenever he looked you in the eye, he made people (me included) feel like they were the most important folks in the world. So whenever he asked me a favor, I always said yes without hesitation.

My profile of Jones in 2010. 

And photos of Jones from our AJC archives

Before coming to Atlanta, he worked on radio stations in Bremen, Columbus, Asheville N.C. and Montgomery. Jones was the king of country at Y106 in the 1980s. When James "Moby" Carney arrived at rival station Kicks 101.5 in 1990, he took away a big slice of Rhubarb’s audience. It was a “fierce rivalry,” Jones recalled in 2010.

Their relationship remained frosty until 2008. Moby was the very first person to call Jones to offer his condolences when he lost his job at Eagle 106.7, which had changed format. They became friends.

"He was a lot better human being than I am," said Moby after the news came out. "It makes me really sad." Jones would sub in for Moby on Moby's radio network, which he ended at the end of last year.

My video interview with Jones in 2010:

Craig Ashwood, a former Atlanta radio jock in town, would meet up with other former radio personalities for lunch. In fact, he had been going back and forth this morning with Jones about getting together again just before the heart attack. Ashfood said his best memory was recently when some former fans of Jones spied him during their lunch."He got up, went over to their booth and sat with them the rest of the lunch," Ashwood wrote via Facebook. "Just visiting, like a good Southern boy would do. Keep in mind he was no longer on the air daily. This was seven or eight years after he'd been off morning radio. So he had nothing to 'sell' or promote. He was just being the nice thoughtful man he was. And those people were thrilled to meet and talk with him."

Jones also ran a celebrity golf tournament for more than 18 years for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, raising more than $3.5 million. Before that, he did something called the March Across Georgia to raise money for the same group, collecting pennies wherever he went.

He was born in Miami but grew up in the small town of Tallapoosa, 57 miles west of downtown Atlanta, which he always talked about with affection. He returned to Tallapoosa in 2006 after residing in East Cobb to live on the street he grew up in. The town renamed the street Rhubarb Lane. Starting in 2015, he did mid-days for the local oldies station WWGA-FM on top of his regular job at KSU. "I'm just doing this for fun," said Jones in 2015 to me. "I get to play music I used to play before I started country, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s."

He is survived by two daughters Presley and Callie and two sons McCoie and David.

In a coincidence, KSU grad student Daniel Lumpkin was preparing a documentary about Jones and interviewed him this past Friday for an hour. "He made a big impact on all the students, especially me," Lumpkin said. "He was always there to help. I felt a little guilty reaching out to him doing this project because I knew he'd say yes."

He still plans to finish the documentary.

Paul Leslie spoke with Jones in 2014 about his life.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.