2006 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award
Randy K. Jones ’79
Randy Jones showed leadership ability while he was still in diapers. The youngest of 11 children in a materially poor but emotionally rich family, Randy had only one baby bottle as a tyke. Every night, before he went to bed, he had his 10 older siblings searching high and low in the house and yard for his bottle. They had to find it before he’d let anyone in the house get to sleep.
Randy grew up in the small town of Richlands in rural eastern North Carolina. Growing up in a large family, he had to learn very early how to share and get along with people. “His biggest asset is his ability to deal with people from every level and still maintain his humility,” said his brother Leon. “Even though he’s the baby, we look up to him.”
His strong family and the church built a foundation that held him steady when he saw things, growing up in the ’60s, that he knew weren’t right. The first in his family to graduate from college, Jones arrived at Carolina “a real big, wide-eyed country boy,” said his friend and classmate David Simmons ’79. But he had all the traits of a good lawyer—charisma, concern about people being mistreated, and the injustices on campus and elsewhere in the world.
Even then, Randy was opinionated, passionate about his beliefs and very persuasive. “We would stay up until two, three in the morning debating world issues,” Simmons said. “Most of the time, he got us to see his way before we went to bed.”
After he received a degree in political science in 1979 and a law degree from Carolina in 1982, he joined the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps and moved to San Diego. Once he completed his active duty, he stayed on in the Reserves—he’s now a commander—and joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, where he’s been ever since. His son, Randy Jr., graduated from N.C.State and recently married in Raleigh. His daughter, Arrington, still a schoolgirl, lives with him and his wife, Traci.
Randy’s resume reads like a litany of honors and achievements. He was one of the youngest presidents of the National Bar Association. He successfully lobbied the White House to secure justice for 202 African-American World War II sailors who had been wrongly jailed for mutiny. He led the first-ever delegation of lawyers and judges to East Africa to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. In 1998 he received the GAA’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award. The second vice chair on the GAA’s Board of Directors, he also serves on UNC’s Board of Visitors.
Randy got Isaac Horton ’79, a former president of the Black Student Movement at Carolina, to put aside his mistrust of the University and join the Board of Visitors. “He kept encouraging me; he helped me get over the wound I had,” Horton said. “Randy would rather bring people together than have them fighting over something.”
Earlier this year, he returned to his high school, where he had been the first African-American to be elected student body president, to give the commencement address. He told the students from that small town that it didn’t matter where they came from; they could accomplish whatever they set their minds to, if they were willing to work hard. He urged them to be honest, humble, helpful and, above all, happy.
“You can hear his laugh a hundred feet away,” said his friend Johnny Southerland ’81. “He throws his head back and just lets it go. … Everyone who knows him knows he’s a good guy. That’s what makes him stand out. You just really like being around him.”