Burt was born in his parents' home in the Bethlehem community outside Amory, Miss. on January 9, 1935, one day after Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, 35 miles to the north. Burt was the first child born to Bilbo - who eventually became a foreman on the Frisco Railroad, and his mother, Claudia, who was a homemaker. Burt was later joined by his sisters Hildred in 1939 and Mildred in 1942, and finally by a younger brother in 1951 who Burt’s parents let him name Billy Ray. Burt used to joke that he was born and lived in a house where you could look up through the roof and see the stars and down through the floor and see the chickens. While the young family was not wealthy, Burt was surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and a great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War.
Bilbo was traveling for the railroad much of Burt’s formative years. Being the oldest boy, he was doted on by his mother during Bilbo’s extended absences, and those who knew him will not be surprised that Burt developed into kind of a rascal. Burt loved to tell stories of his escapades, including tying together the boot laces of his Grandpa Jones when he caught him sleeping on the porch; sitting beside his great-grandfather at dinner and kicking the old Civil war veteran under the table or telling his mother he was going to the school bus and going fishing instead.
Burt started school in a one-room school house. While Burt was in elementary school, Bilbo moved his family to Pratt City. While the family moved back to Amory and then back to Pratt City during Burt’s elementary school years, Pratt City is where Burt felt at home, and that is where he developed many life-long friendships.
Burt later attended Ensley High School where he became known as one of the Pratt City Boys. This group of boys developed strong bonds that have lasted decades. Several years back, Burt and a group of local Pratt City Boys, now men, started meeting every two months for breakfast. From those early breakfasts, Burt and the other men established an annual reunion attended by men from as far away as California. For over two decades, the Pratt City Boys have held the annual reunion every Mother’s Day.
Bilbo and Claudia moved to Jasper when Burt was a senior in high school, and rather than move away from his friends, Burt went to live with his Aunt Lola and Uncle Andy Cavender and started working part time as a stock boy at Sears in Ensley. Burt continued to work at Sears for over 36 years, where he went on to be the manager of the appliance department and was the leading Sears appliance salesman in the region for several years running. When Sears held a sales contest, Burt was usually the winner, and other salesmen at Sears knew they were competing for second place. Folks used to say if you go into Sears in Ensley, don’t say hello to Burt unless you want to walk out owning a new appliance or two.
Burt considered his occupation a calling. While he looked at sales as a good opportunity to take care of his family financially, he also felt an obligation to his customers. He made himself available seven days a week, often taking calls on weekends and holidays from customers that needed help with problems such as tuning their new color television to the game or figuring out the settings on their washing machine. Burt found strong satisfaction in making sure his customers made a purchase that would keep them happy for the long term. Burt sold many appliances to young couples just starting out that became longtime friends, and before retiring from Sears he sold appliances to their children and grandchildren when they were starting their families.
Burt’s world really took a turn on July 22, 1956, when he met the love of his life, Heloise Pierce. Burt went with his friend Bill Blevins to an outdoor dance party in the South Side of Birmingham where he met Heloise for the first time. A few days later, Burt was on his way to their first date, a double date with Bill Blevins and Heloise’s friend, when Burt was T-boned in his brand new 1956 Chevy. When Burt didn’t show up, Heloise left her home and saw the accident scene. Needless to say, that first date didn’t happen because Bill had to go to the hospital to get stitched up, and Burt’s new car was a wreck. Fortunately, everyone was OK, insurance repaired Burt’s car and the next date must have gone better because Burt and Heloise were married four months later. Within three years they had two children; Marcus (Marc) born in 1958 and Deborah (Debi) born in 1959. Getting married and having kids didn’t slow Burt Jones down right away. He and his ‘56 Chevy were known for going fast, with an occasional impromptu drag race on the street. This continued until Heloise and the children were challenged to a race one day when she was stopped at a traffic light.
Burt moved his new family to Minor Heights in 1961, and they became charter members of Westmont Baptist Church. In Minor, Burt became a fixture of the community, from helping with Little League fundraisers to volunteering to help with the construction of the new Westmont Baptist Church to playing an active role in the Minor High Quarterback Club. Burt loved local sports, playing for the church softball team and watching the Minor Tigers play football on Friday nights in the fall. He also worked in politics, managing Hoyt Trammell’s election to be the state representative for a newly established district that included Minor. One of Burt’s most rewarding contributions was as a Sunday school teacher for teenage boys for several years. Many of the teenagers in Burt’s class became deacons and ministers and remained in contact and were still his friends.
Burt and Heloise raised their two children in Minor on Bonds Avenue, a dead-end street that ended at an expanse of woods full of adventure. Summer evenings were filled with impromptu ice cream socials with the neighbors, badminton games and ball games. The rest of the year was busy with school, church functions, all sorts of sports and other extracurricular activities and fun time with the other neighborhood kids. Burt and Heloise made sure Debi and Marc had all the opportunities a middle class family could afford.
In 1980, Burt and Heloise purchased their Smith Lake property in Houston. It was rustic, with no running water, a roof covering a travel trailer and a screened-in porch, but it was full of possibility. Burt retired from Sears in 1990, and he set to work to ready their lake place to be a comfortable home for his and Heloise’s future retirement. Burt and his friends worked on each other’s projects for two years. At the end of that time, the lake house was about ready, but Burt agreed to help his dear friend Hack Bethany with his insurance office for two or three days a week. By 2000, the lake property was ready, so Burt and Heloise moved to the lake full time. Before that, Burt and Heloise began another adventure.
August 17, 1997, Burt’s son, Marc, called to let Burt and Heloise know his wife Susan was about to deliver their grandchildren. They drove 750 miles to Maryland to be at the hospital on the 18th a few hours before Susan delivered Madison, Colin and John. For the first several months after the triplets came home, two adults had to be awake 24 hours a day to feed, change and clean the three infants. Burt and Heloise stayed with the young family for the first five months after their triplets were born, and Burt developed a deep love for his grandchildren. Burt and Heloise - Papa and Granma to Madison, Colin and John - spent extended visits in Maryland, and made sure they were there for all the special events, including music and dance recitals, horse shows and pony club events, ball games and, of course, Christmas. Marc and his family visited in the summers when Burt and Heloise loved holding their famous birthday parties at their lake house so they could show off the triplets. Burt was so proud of his grandchildren, and they brought him tremendous joy.
Once Burt moved to Smith Lake full time he threw himself into becoming a part of the community. Burt joined the Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Group, participating actively in lake cleanup days and other activities. He worked tirelessly alongside Heloise in support of the Arley Women’s Club. Burt joined the Arley Civitan Club in 2006, where he was later elected president, and worked to make it the fastest growing Civitan Club in Alabama. Burt, along with Heloise, was an active member of Arley First Baptist Church, where they served as greeters. Burt was a Free Mason for 60 years, and once at Smith Lake, he joined Masonic Lodge 867 in Arley, where he served as the Worshipful Master from 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. Burt also served as the lodge treasurer from 2015-2018. One of the things Burt enjoyed most in his later years was going to the Arley Coffee Shop for breakfast, where he challenged good-hearted debate with all comers.
In addition to his advocacy work, Burt still knew how to have fun. He and Heloise joined the Swingin’ Squares, a local square dance club where they met many new friends. Burt loved to dance, whether it was square dancing or showing off his bebop skills at the Civitan charity sock hops. Burt and Heloise traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada with new and old friends. They took their trip of a lifetime to the South Pacific with Peggy and Amos Perkins. Burt had an incredible memory and loved telling stories about the old days in Pratt City and could remember football games he watched decades earlier. Burt also loved a good laugh, and a bit of rough-housing. Well into his 80s, Burt enjoyed getting into wrestling bouts with his grandsons when they visited. Granma Heloise would always yell, “don’t hurt him,” but it was never certain who she was talking to. They had to slow down many of their activities in recent years, but Burt still had a little bit of the rascal in him. He and Heloise bought a Toyota convertible in 2017. Seeing Burt and Heloise tooling around in their convertible, friends remarked that they acted like recycled teenagers. Burt and Heloise enjoyed their life together to the fullest.
Burt was predeceased by Bilbo, Claudia, and Billy Ray Jones, and by his sister, Hildred Lockhart.
He is survived by Heloise, Marc and his daughter-in-law Susan, Debi, and by his grandchildren Madison, Colin and John, as well as his sister Mildred Smith.
A graveside service was provided by Collins-Burke Funeral Home at Mount Vernon Baptist Church Cemetery in Curry on Monday, September 21, 2020.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in Burt Jones’ name be made to the Arley Women’s Club at P.O. Box 15, Arley, Ala. 35541.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.