Wayne Jones, a former Ohio state representative, chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and party politics activist, died Saturday afternoon following a long illness. He was 65.
"He was a dedicated party leader and public servant," said Bill Rich, who served on the Summit County Board of Elections with Jones until two months ago. Rich’s time as parliamentarian of the Summit County Democratic Party included the seven years when Jones led the organization with an attentive ear and a decisive, authoritative voice.
Though his voice faltered toward the end, his spirit persevered.
"He struggled with Parkinson’s for years," a saddened Rich recalled. "And he was very tough and brave about it. But it’s a progressive disease, and it took it’s toll."
Details for a celebration of Jones’ life at Tangier this Friday are still being ironed out.
"I would say he was a giant in Summit County politics and always will be in our hearts," said current Summit County Democratic Party Chair Tom Bevan. At an annual diner in June, the party presented Jones, who attended in a wheelchair, with a lifetime achievement award. "It was the highlight of the evening," Bevan said.
As a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, Jones worked across party lines, especially with Roy Ray of Akron, a leading Republican state senator and former city mayor, to bring public investment to the city and area, recalled Michael Douglas, retired editorial page editor of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Among his accomplishments, Jones helped secure funding for the John S. Knight convention center in Akron’s downtown.
He also rebuilt the fractured county Democratic Party, working with Russ Pry, the late Summit County executive, in that effort.
"As many good attributes that Russ Pry had, and Wayne had, the two of them together: that’s what really carried the day for the Democratic Party for a number of years," said Eric Czetli, retired Service Director for Cuyahoag Falls.
Czetli met Jones 40 years ago while running for Cuyahoga Fall Municipal Clerk of Courts, which oversaw 16 municipalities at the time. Jones, a young and ambitious student of politics, met his wife while volunteering on Czetli’s campaign.
Jones witnessed talent and hired Czetli, who served as chief deputy clerk until 1982 when then Gov. Dick Celeste stole Jones away to Columbus to work in the Department of Insurance.
"And the truth is, I would have loved to have kept him, because I stayed as clerk for 25 years," Czetli said of losing an able staff member. "But he outgrew me, the position and the responsibility. Dick Celeste saw the same thing."
The men and their families stayed close up until the end when Czetli would visit Jones, who was confined mostly to his home. "It was actually hard for me to do that, as much as I respected him and considered him almost a brother," Czetli said. "It was difficult for me to see him both mentally and physically, the condition he was in with the Parkinson’s."
"He really gave back to this community in his various capacities with his public service.
Wayne knew and advised the most prominent Democratic players, including Don Plusquellic, Joel Bailey, Judge Elinor Stormer and Dan Horrigan, Douglas said.
Jones was Ohio state representative for the 46th District from 1988 to 1996.
He was the Summit County Democratic Party Chair from 2007 to 2014.
He served on the Summit County Board of Elections until stepping down on Sept. 30.
Jones was honored in June with a lifetime achievement award by his fellow Democrats.
Additional obituary information and arrangements are pending.