Appeared in the New York Times on August 4, 2015 Print
Wednesday, 05 August 2015

We honor the life of Howard W. Jones, Jr., MD, 104, a pioneering medical visionary, dedicated mentor, internationally renowned gynecological surgeon, and the father of in vitro fertilization in the United States.

Dr. Jones, along with his wife Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones, helped create America’s first “test-tube” baby in 1981, transforming reproductive medical science and propelling the field from a dream to reality. Their innovations have enabled nearly 6 million births worldwide through in vitro fertilization. Dr. Jones served on the Board and was Honorary Chairman of the Board of the Jones Foundation for Reproductive Medicine until the time of his death. The Foundation funds groundbreaking research and the fellows and doctors trained at the Foundation share their knowledge around the world to serve mankind.

Dr. Jones’s keen mind, up until the end of his life, astonished his colleagues, friends and family. He continued to stay abreast of reproductive endocrinology, attend lectures and conferences, and ask probing questions during medical meetings. “One more question,” he would proclaim in his deep voice. “Ageless, he never aged,” said Dr. Alan DeCherney, director of the Program in Reproductive and Adult Endocrinology at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Dr. Jones was born on December 30, 1910 in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was a remarkable coincidence that he was delivered, at home, by his future father-in-law, Dr. King Seegar.  His father was a physician and they went on house calls together in a horse and buggy. When Dr. Jones was 13, his father died and his aunt helped raise him.  Dr. Jones attended the Friends School in Baltimore and Amherst College, where his professor of English was Robert Frost. Dr. Jones graduated from Amherst cum laude in 1931.

Dr. Jones loved to recount how he fell in love with Georgeanna Seegar on February 29th, 1932 at a medical lecture. She later said that the evening changed her life.  He assumed it was because it was the night she fell in love with him, too; she insisted it was because he inspired her to apply to medical school and become an endocrinologist.

They were rarely apart, sharing one desk and one car. Dr. Jones served in WWII as the chief of a mobile surgical team in the United States Corp Fifth Auxiliary Surgical Group with General George S. Patton.  When Dr. Jones was 94, he published a collection of love letters he and his wife wrote each day during the war.  Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones died in 2005.

In the 1950s, Dr. Jones collaborated on landmark cervical cancer studies and became the recognized expert at Johns Hopkins for genital abnormalities and reconstructions. In 1965, he, and his wife, who was the director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at Johns Hopkins, and Dr. Robert Edwards, collaborated in the lab and succeeded at the first steps of in vitro fertilization.

After mandatory retirement from Johns Hopkins, a former classmate, Dr. Mason Andrews, recruited Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones to the Eastern Virginia Medical School. They continued working on in vitro fertilization and had 41 failures before their first success, when Judith Carr gave birth to Elizabeth Carr on December 28, 1981, two days before Dr. Jones’s 71st birthday.   Over the years, Dr. Jones welcomed former patients who came with their toddlers to celebrate Mother’s Day and baby photos adorned his office.

Dr. Jones served with great distinction as Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Eastern Virginia Medical School.  He was also Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins where he served as Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics, acting Chairman of the Department, and Secretary General of the University Program for International Education.  Dr. Jones received honorary degrees from the University of Cordoba, Old Dominion University, Amherst College, the University of Madrid, and Eastern Virginia Medical School.  He is the recipient of the Medal of the College of France and the Distinguished Service Award of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He launched the first ethics committee dealing with fertility as part of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

At the age of 103, he wrote In Vitro Fertilization Comes to America: Memoir of a Medical Breakthrough, retelling his amazing career. A year earlier, he published Personhood Revisited: Reproductive Technology, Bioethics, Religion and the Law, an exploration into the legal and ethical implications of fertility treatments and a perspective on pending legislation seeking to define the union of a sperm and egg as a person. Dr. Jones published a dozen books and hundreds of scientific journal articles.

Dr. Jones is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren. His son, Howard W. Jones III, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. A daughter, Georgeanna Jones Klingensmith, MD, is the Past Director of Pediatric Diabetes at the Barbara Davis Diabetes Center at the University of Colorado, and his son Lawrence Massey Jones is a Denver-based financial advisor.

At a 100th birthday celebration Dr. Jones quoted his professor at Amherst in describing himself:

“Two Roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost.  The Board and staff of the Jones Foundation for Reproductive Medicine, millions of parents and children, and those who had the good fortune to be touched by his innovative genius and kind spirit honor the man who took the road less traveled.

Howard P. Milstein
Howard and Georgeanna Jones Foundation for Reproductive Medicine