Bob Jones, longtime athletic director and football coach at Auburn High School, died Sunday morning after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
Jones was 60 years old.
According to The News Tribune, Jones had been in hospice care since January when he stepped down as the Trojans’ athletic director, a position he had held for 22 of his 36 years at the school.
School officials had planned to stage a surprise assembly Friday for Jones, naming the school’s gymnasium after him in a ceremony.
News of Jones’ passing jolted the community on Monday.
“Over the years he made a positive impact in the thousands of lives he touched,” Auburn High School Principal Richard Zimmerman said in a letter to the community. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Bob’s family and all who knew and loved him. Our collective hearts are breaking.
“It is difficult to accept the loss of a person who has been a pillar of the Auburn community,” Zimmerman wrote. “This is a very sad day for the Auburn High community.”
Kip Herren, former coach, principal and superintendent, worked with Jones throughout his career in education.
“Bob distinguished himself as a teacher, coach and athletic and activities director at Auburn High,” Herren said. “In every role, he made a significant difference in the lives of students. His charismatic personality and infectious smile brought enthusiasm to all lives, every day.
“He personified everything great about Auburn High School,” Herren said. “His beloved spirit and care enhanced thousands and generations of students. Bob was tireless in his generosity and love for our entire community. The new AHS is tribute to his legacy of excellence.”
Jones was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2013. After undergoing chemotherapy and having surgery to remove a tumor, he continued working. Another tumor was discovered in November 2014.
Despite his health, Jones maintained an attitude of “focusing on today,” trying to find the positives in everyday life. He remained involved in the Auburn and Lake Tapps communities. Friends and supporters frequently organized fundraisers to support Jones and his family.
Jones wore colorful bracelets to remind himself of his daily fight. And of his opponent, pancreatic cancer, which he vowed to whip.
Each bracelet had a message, one of which read FIGHT BACK.
“Cancer beats you up so bad that sometimes you forget to fight back,” Jones said in a 2015 interview. “I have to fight back every day. The other thing that has worked for me is the idea to focus on today.”
Jones had been a big part of the community for 36 years as a teacher, coach, mentor and leader.
The community honored Jones for his many contributions. He served as grand marshal in the 2015 Auburn Days Festival Parade.
Jones had been a part of the Auburn High staff for 36 years, having taught chemistry, biology and human survival for 12 of those years. His career as the athletic/activities coordinator spanned 22 years. He coached football for 21 years, 12 of which were at the helm of the Trojans.
He was also a member of the City of Auburn Parks Board for two years. He has served as field manager for the Relay for Life – a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society – for 22 years.
Jones experienced the importance of cancer research first hand. He had been a warrior, fighting his own battle.
Despite his plight, Jones remained upbeat.
“I learned to just focus on today, to take care of the things I need to take care of today,” Jones said. “I’m now … into my fight.”
That fight has left a lasting impression on family and friends.
“His battle with cancer was epic, modeling courage and inspiring all,” Herren said. “We will miss our friend and colleague but will honor his memory by carrying forth his great work.
“… As great as he was for our Auburn community, he was even a better husband and father.”
Services are pending.
Jones is survived by his wife, Sue, daughter Taryn and sons Kyle and Eric.