Alice Matthews Jones lives a life of service. From her earliest years through her career and ramping up in retirement, she finds fulfillment in making a difference.
Growing up she had the opportunity to live in two separate environments, shaping a world view of different perspectives. She was born in Philadelphia and lived there through starting primary school. The big city had its own unique sights and sounds.
“The trolley track was on the street that we lived, and with the noise at night, you didn’t get a good night’s sleep,” she remembered.
She moved to Kingstree, South Carolina, as a teen. It was a 180-degree change that brought a breath of fresh air, literally. It was clean and quiet, and she got to learn cooking, gardening, and Christianity, “the pleasantries of life” Alice called it.
“My grandmother didn’t like the environment (in Philadelphia) for us, and she took us in at an early age,” she said. “It was a good life, a good experience, being out there.”
She earned her undergraduate degree from Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, then headed to the nation’s capital where she worked as a stenographer with the National Commission on Violence in America under President Lyndon Johnson. She produced the letters people receive from presidents on an electric typewriter for mass-producing letters with a canned signature.
“That was a great experience for me. That was the best job I think I ever had in my life,” she recalled. “I was really circling the government. And on our lunch break we would go shopping or go to the museums, but we really worked.”
In the early 1970’s she returned to Philadelphia to take care of her ailing father, and she started grad school at Temple University, where she accumulated enough credits to become an accountant. In Philly, she worked, as both a secondary school teacher and as an accountant.
A relocation brought her south to Florida, where she completed grad school, graduating Cum Laude with a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Tampa College, and she was promoted to management. In addition to teaching as a college professor, she spent most of her employment as a tax auditor with the Florida Dept. of Revenue in Tallahassee.
In 1989, she transferred to Georgia, and she has long since called Fayetteville her home. Over the course of her career as an auditor covering the southeast region, she audited companies for sales & use tax, intangible property tax, and documentary stamp tax compliance and assessments before retiring in 2003. She still does compliance audits for small businesses and non-profits to make sure they are up to speed on their taxes.
Retirement from the day-to-day grind didn’t mean time to get lazy for Alice. She took it as an opportunity to cultivate a passion for community service that was always been in her heart.
“I’ve always had community activism in my spirit,” she said. Back in Philadelphia, her Aunt Pearl got her involved in causes. “She was every energetic, and she would reach out to me as a young person to get involved in fundraisers she would do for the church. She had the old-fashioned cabarets, and I helped her with those. We also had (fundraiser) boat rides on the Delaware River and community cleanup projects.”
It ignited a fire in her that never stopped burning.
“That energized my spirit to do community activism, to make sure that I’m involved in giving back to the church and civic organizations.”
Her path was sealed as a rising senior in high school with a truly momentous and historic trip.
“The first activity I actually involved myself in was the Civil Rights March in 1963 with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” she recalled. “Along with a busload of students, I went to join that march, and that was the most impacting, educational experience that I’ve ever had, seeing the activism and peaceful protest.”
She has continued her work locally, volunteering with a lengthy line of civic and political groups, including the Fayette County Branch of the NAACP, the communications committee for the Fayette County School System, and the Fayette C.A.R.E. over the years. More recently, she has partnered with Piedmont Fayette Hospital to help disseminate information to the public, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she is also involved with the Fayette County History Society and their bicentennial celebration planning.
“Most involvement I’ve had is working with groups that make a difference in somebody’s life, and I feel really good about that,” she said.
Among the many subsets of people she’s volunteered with, Alice finds connecting with the youth most rewarding. She currently serves as an advisor to the Fayette County Youth Council NAACP, working to inform teens of their rights as citizens, enhance their economic, education, social, and political status, engender cooperation among people of all race and ethnicity, and stimulate appreciation for the contributions African-American ancestors have given to the advancement of America.
The modern-day Youth Council offers a variety of committees to dial down deeper on key issues: Education, Communications, Health, Programs & Research, Political Action/Voter Empowerment, Juvenile Justice, and Economic Empowerment.
“It blesses my heart to see young people become progressive and productive citizens and find gainful employment,” she said. “It’s meaningful just seeing something that I’ve shared with them in my life to motivate them, encourage them to do good.”
It has been a year where she has seen more and more young people realize the importance of their vote. When a group of local alums returned from college to host a Black Lives Matter march through Fayetteville that drew more than 2,000, Alice was there handing out cards to people of all colors to help everyone register to vote, along with her other efforts.
“It was a rewarding experience to make phone calls and to hear the voices of happiness and joy from people who voted for the first time in their lives.”
She also takes great pride in helping shepherd the rebirth of Kenwood Park and installation of the Pota Coston memorial there. She is dedicated to keeping it beautiful and recently joined in for a community day cleanup along with Bernie Coston, County Commissioner Charles Rousseau, Fayette County Parks and Recreation Director Anita Godbee, and others.
“We don’t just get involved in political stuff, we get involved in community giveback,” she said.
As much as she has accomplished, there is always work to be done, for reconciling with our past, amplifying the beauty in our present, and solidifying foundations for our future. Seeing her father in his waning years in a nursing home on a wide range of medications led her to dedicate herself to healthy living. Taking after her grandmother, she cooks clean and eats fresh vegetables. She wants to be here making an impact in her community for a lot longer.
“This is an exciting moment in my lifetime,” she said. “I’m just pleased to be alive.”