(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the awards dinner and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
In the federal courthouse in San Diego, Randy Jones has a reputation as a class act. Chief Judge Barry Moskowitz, who’s watched him prosecute cases over the past 20 years, said Randy is thorough and weaves together facts in his rich, sonorous voice, knowing to let the little things go and not create a stressful environment in the courtroom. As an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego since the late 1980s, Randy has prevailed against some of the top defense lawyers in the district. He’s charismatic and compassionate and doesn’t carry grudges.
“Randy can be tough in court but not in a way that’s obnoxious,” Barry said “That’s a very unusual trait in a lawyer.”
Then again, Randy is an unusual guy. The youngest of 11 children, he has two of his own — a son and a daughter, 20 years apart. He grew up in Richlands, a tiny town “about as big as your office,” said former N.C. Sen. Tony Rand ’61. Richlands’ slogan is “The town of perfect water,” but from the get-go, Randy hankered for the nearly perfect water of the California coast, settling in San Diego after completing law school at Carolina in 1982 and four years’ touring the world in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps.
Yet he held tight to his Tar Heel roots, flying cross country regularly to participate in meetings as a member of UNC’s Board of Visitors, then for years as a director and eventual chair of the GAA Board of Directors. Randy and Tony got to know one another when they served on the GAA board together. Randy is a large man with an even larger personality, Tony says. “I always looked forward to seeing Randy in whatever was going on, because you just knew it was going to be fun,” he said. “Anything you want to do, Randy’s ready to go in there and do it.”
In college, his friends could count on him to take a good idea and make it happen, said his longtime friend Dave Simmons ’79. His sociology class visited Butner prison camp, and Randy organized a basketball tournament between the inmates and some UNC intramural teams. He and Simmons needed more spending money, and at Randy’s behest, they bought some raw chickens, fried them up in the dorm kitchen and turned a profit selling homemade chicken dinners. Randy organized a fraternity-like group, Conosco, that did service projects in the community and put on step shows. He also organized demonstrations at the state capitol demanding the release of the Wilmington 10 civil rights activists. He partied with the best of them Saturday nights at Upendo Lounge, but by 8 o’clock the next morning he was back at Upendo, setting up chairs for the worship service he attended every Sunday.
In law school, Randy was always the guy who got everyone laughing despite the stress. “He has a rapier sharp wit,” said his law school classmate Frank Emory ’82 (JD). He mentored younger students and led his peers in a variety of ways, including finding a $5 all-you-can-eat buffet on West Rosemary Street and regularly rounding up a group of hungry grad students for a Friday night feast. He’s extraordinarily loyal and fiercely competitive. Randy loves to win, even playing pickup basketball games against Michael Jordan ’86.
As his career moved ahead, he helped others advance as well. In 1990, he established The Neighborhood Law School in San Diego, sending members of the legal profession into poor communities to educate people about their rights and responsibilities. Randy is a 2006 recipient of the Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award that recognizes alumni who have been instrumental in the support of the Black Alumni Reunion and who have been stellar leaders within the University community or in their local community.
As president of the National Bar Association in 1998, he led a delegation of lawyers and judges to East Africa to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He’s active in his church, and he’s also a recording artist — he sang a tenor solo on a CD released by the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir.
“He gives back to whatever community he’s in,” Simmons said.
Randy shrugs off the kudos for his good works. “When you love something,” he said, “you don’t see it as a sacrifice.”
The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal has been awarded since 1978 to alumni and others who have provided outstanding service to the GAA and/or to the University. The award is presented at the annual Alumni Luncheon on the weekend of reunions and Commencement in May. Recipients of the 2012 Distinguished Service Medals are Shirley Ort, associate provost and director of scholarships and financial aid; John Ellison Jr. ’69, a former member of the Board of Trustees who helped guide UNC’s academic planning; William “Bill” Harrison Jr. ’66, who helped steer the University’s global aspirations; and Randy Jones ’79, former chair of the alumni association.