Aubrey Bright Jones Jr., 83, an engineer and author who in retirement oversaw the construction of one of the first megachurches in the Philadelphia area, died Sunday, Nov. 4, of Lewy body dementia at Liberty Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing in East Mount Airy.
Raised in poverty in the Jim Crow South, Mr. Jones shined shoes and sold newspapers to help his parents, Aubrey Bright Jones Sr. and Margaret Jones Battle, support their large family. After graduating from Armstrong High School in Richmond, Va., he wanted to attend college, but couldn't afford it.
Instead, he joined the Air Force and in 1956 was deployed to Germany. For the first time, he could envision a life for himself free of segregation and poverty, he later told his family.
Once back stateside, he used the GI Bill to pay for his education at the University of Virginia. Despite racism, he persevered and became one of the first black people to graduate from the School of Engineering in 1963. Later, he was honored for his role by UVA's black alumni.
While at the university, he met Alyce Carter. They married and had two children. She died in 1985.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Jones began his career as an engineer at Philco-Ford Corp. in Philadelphia. He also worked at Sperry Univac, Radio Corp. of America, Digital Equipment Co., and Control Data Corp. During those years, he rose from engineer to manager. "That growth did not come without struggle," he told his family. "As one of the first blacks to enter high-level corporate jobs, there were many instances of prejudice and racism that had to be overcome."
The lessons he learned became the grist for his 2005 memoir, Picking Cotton in Corporate America, printed by PublishAmerica Inc.
In 1994, after being downsized, he left the corporate world to pursue other projects. Already an author with a 10-book series on computer programming to his credit, he began thinking about how to motivate young black students. His thoughts were channeled into a 1996 motivational program called "I Can Do It, Too." The program was used in the Philadelphia public schools.
Mr. Jones was a longtime church member, first of Salem Baptist Church in Jenkintown and later of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Germantown. He joined that church in 2000.
In 2001, he joined a church building committee that, under the direction of the Rev. Alyn E. Waller, was planning a new church building at 2800 W. Cheltenham Ave. in East Mount Airy to meet the needs of the growing church's 4,000 to 5,000 worshipers. The Germantown facility was to be Enon's west branch, the East Mount Airy facility its east branch.
"He was the project manager," Waller said. "He oversaw the entire thing from the church perspective. He was there every day and worked with the architect and the construction management company. He was the eyes and ears of the church. He gave himself to the project."
Since the new church building, which seats 5,000, opened in 2006, the overall number of Enon worshipers has grown to 15,000, Waller said, and that represents Mr. Jones' legacy. "He was a very important part of our vision that we are a place where people encounter God. I'm grateful to have known him."
In 1987, Mr. Jones was introduced to Diane Branch. They were married in 1998 and started a blended family including her two children. The Branch-Jones family enjoyed many Sunday dinners and holidays together.
Mr. Jones loved football and especially the Eagles. "Sundays were church and football," his wife said.
Mr. Jones and his wife toured the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe. "After his first cruise, Aubrey was hooked," his wife said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by children Aubrey Jones III, Adrienne Jones, Damon Branch, and Danielle Branch; two sisters; a brother; nieces and nephews, and a large extended family.