When he looked at the notes left by Jack Jones, a visionary businessman whose love of tennis helped boost the women’s game at a time when it needed wise and effective promotion, Jones’ son Cary was impressed by the sense of Fairness, which was the basis of his father’s work.
Jones, who died of natural causes on September 2 at the age of 97, teamed up with John Moreno to direct it Family district cup Tournament that first took place in 1973. It was the first women’s tennis tournament to offer $100,000 in prize money and the first to be broadcast on network television. The winner’s prize of $30,000 was considered unimaginable wealth at the time.
He brought that sense of justice to his time as an executive at Mattel, where he insisted that children of color appear in the company’s national television commercials, Cary said.
Jones had a long career as a television producer, but his greatest impact was in tennis, a sport he played recreationally.
“He believed that the profile of women’s sports and women’s tennis should be raised, and one way to do that was to put them on national television,” Cary said. “And he also believed in equal pay for women’s work, as opposed to what men were earning at the time.”
Jones, who lived in Los Angeles for more than six decades, died in Camarillo. He left behind four children, five grandchildren and the fond memories of prominent members of the tennis community. The Family Circle Cup, later renamed and moved from Hilton Head Island, SC, to Charleston, SC, celebrated its 50th anniversary in April.
Billie Jean King, a longtime advocate for justice on and off the court, recalled taking a flight with other players to Savannah, Georgia, where Jones and Moreno picked her up for the final leg of the trip to the inaugural tournament in Hilton Head became. During their stay there, she said the players took part in training sessions and other events to entertain sponsors and convince them that their investment was worth it.
“It was so exciting in 1973. The $30,000 was unheard of at the time,” King said in a telephone interview. “I loved Jack. He and John Moreno were ahead of their time.
“Jack really loved tennis. He loved his family. Jack was a great friend and relationships are everything. He loved tennis, but he thought outside the box. He was really a special person. Friendly, smart, ahead of his time. He’s also been a great friend over the years and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Peachy Kellmeyer, the first director of the Virginia Slims Women’s Tour and later a senior executive at the Women’s Tennis Assn., also recognized Jones’ innovative thinking.
“Jack was a standout in women’s tennis,” she said, citing the groundbreaking TV appearance and Family Circle Cup prize money. She said Jones and Moreno had made the tournament “a long-standing favorite for players, fans and television audiences,” adding: “Our sport proudly calls Jack a man of early achievement and a true friend.”
Jones also promoted the now-defunct U.S. Women’s Indoor Championships. He also created the Playtex Challenge, which awarded $1 million in prize money to a player who could prevail on four different surfaces by winning the U.S. indoor title, the Family Circle Cup, in a single year , Wimbledon and the US Open. Martina Navratilova came close in 1982, winning the first three of those four events and earning $500,000.
“I don’t know if there was a similar concept,” Cary said. “But that was one of the unique things he tried to do to promote the women’s tour as well.”
Jones promoted the players’ ideals, not just their tournaments.
“He had great admiration for her on different levels,” Cary said. “My father had a real interest in people. He really liked the people and he enjoyed getting to know the people playing both on the field and behind the scenes.”