Richard L. Jones, 55, of Glassboro, a popular and transformational vice president for student engagement and dean of students at Rowan University, died Wednesday, Dec. 1, of cancer at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.

Known for his “swagger, charisma, and giant heart for the students,” as one friend wrote, Dean Jones touched thousands of people over his 13 years at Rowan. His specialty was student engagement, and he took it seriously.

Of the dozens of online tributes posted since his death, many cite specific examples of Dean Jones directly intervening for the benefit of his students and colleagues. In addition to his academic expertise, he helped students choose the right clothes, find summer jobs and housing, get health insurance, buy the best groceries, stay on top of their grades, and, among many other things, learn his special double-spin move when making a grand entrance.

“Your legacy is forever immortalized inside of all of us,” a former student wrote in a tribute.

“Remember that there [is] no value in things,” Dean Jones said in a 2020 online interview with Rowan Confidential, a university produced podcast. “[There is] only value in people.”

Dean Jones connected with others by using his own struggles and successes as examples of what was possible in their lives. One student wrote that when stuck in the hospital, “you were one of the first people to show up to see me.”

“Even when he was little he was a rescuer,” said his mother, Sandy. If he knew that his classmates were in need of something, she said, he’d take it from home and give it to them.

One year, he earned enough money to buy new clothes for school. But he spent it on clothes for his younger sister instead. “He was my protector,” said his sister, Angela Owens. “He was my best friend.”

Dean Jones arrived at Rowan in 2008 and at first dealt directly with students regarding residential learning and university housing issues. Three years later, he was promoted to vice president for student life, and he began to create policies and oversee projects that had greater impact on the student body.

He became vice president for student engagement in 2019 and assumed even more responsibility for campus policy and implementation. He initiated programs to, among other things, support male teachers, advance social justice, and promote conflict resolution.

But he never closed the door of his new office to those who still needed help. “My passion is serving students,” he told Rowan Confidential. “Making sure that students have a transformational experience.”

Born Oct. 30, 1966, in Jacksonville, Fla., Dean Jones considered going to law school after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of North Florida. But, recalling the satisfaction he got from helping other students as an undergraduate resident adviser, he instead got a master’s degree in counseling education and student development from Mississippi State University.

He worked in student affairs at Vanderbilt University and became the first Black dean at Huntingdon College in Alabama before being hired at Rowan.

“His role as a beloved, respected personal mentor to hundreds of students will have a long-lasting ripple effect through our broader community for many years to come,” Rowan officials said in a statement.

A member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Dean Jones sang solos in church when he was young, could draw and dance better than anyone else in his family, and was skipped ahead in elementary school because he read so well.

“The universe has a plan for all of us,” he told Rowan Confidential. “And I think the plan for us is to fulfill our passion.”

In addition to his mother and sister, Dean Jones is survived by his father, Richard; a brother, Robert; and other relatives.

A family visitation is to be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, at Holmes Glover Solomon Funeral Home, 4334 Brentwood Ave., Jacksonville, Fla., 32206. A service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church, 10325 Interstate Center Dr., Jacksonville, Fla. 32218.

A service at Rowan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, at the Pfleeger Concert Hall, Wilson Hall, 201 Mullica Hill Rd., Glassboro, N.J. 08028. The livestream link is https://youtu.be/pLrWzV1RgLY

Donations in his name may be made to the Richard L. Jones Educational Enrichment Scholarship, Rowan University Foundation, 201 Mullica Hill Rd., Glassboro, N.J. 08028.