Mary Brodie Raiford

GARY BAND/The Warren Record

Mary Brodie Raiford stands in her home with a photo of her father, Bignall Jones. In the background on the left is her great-grandfather Joseph Speed Jones, and on the right is her grandfather, Howard. 

From a chance encounter on Warrenton’s Main Street in 1909, three generations of the Jones family of Warrenton ably ran The Warren Record for more than 90 years.

The story begins when Howard Jones, grandfather of Warrenton’s own Mary Brodie Raiford, met a Mr. Hardy, from whom he would buy The Warren Record. Living in the southern part of the county at the time, Mr. Jones brought his wife, daughter and four young boys to Warrenton and raised them around the business — located first on Main Street, then at the corner of Franklin and S. Main, and finally at the corner of Market and Main.

Brothers Brodie, Howard, Bignall and Duke Jones would all grow up and run papers in Franklinton, Weldon and Warrenton. The Record was the last area paper standing after the Depression and the last one operated by a member of the Jones family until Mary Brodie’s brother, Howard, sold it to Alexander Womack of Chatham, Va. In 1998, for what she called a fair price.   

“My father Bignall and brother Howard had ink in their veins,” Raiford said from her home on Graham Street in early September. Raiford said her father didn’t set out to be a newspaper owner and editor, but to work in chemistry, as he studied along with journalism at George Washington University, where he attended at night. But after the death of Bignall’s brother Brodie, for whom Raiford takes her middle name, his parents, Howard and Estelle, needed him to come home to help out with the family business. 

In addition to owning and editing the paper, Raiford’s grandfather Howard was also the superintendent of Warren County Schools, and an amateur inventor responsible for numerous patents. And when he became secretary to Rep. John Kerr in Washington, D.C., his sons took over at the paper. 

Bignall would run The Record for the next 50-plus years as editor with Duke as the business manager. Bignall passed away at the age of 86 in 1995.

“He was still writing and working when he was 85,” Raiford said.

And like he was before them, Bignall raised Howard and Mary Brodie around the newspaper, preparing them for the day when they might take over if they so chose. And while Raiford did not, Howard took to it very well.

A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill where he majored in journalism, Jones served as a congressional aide to Rep. Nick Galifianakis before becoming editor at a paper in Roxboro and starting his own in Butner. But he soon sold that and came back to help his father Bignall. He took over in 1985 and ran The Record until 1998. 

In addition to the paper, Jones also had an office supply business, a publishing company called Brodie-Jones Printing, and a bookstore called the Booknook. Raiford ran the bookstore and also helped out at the paper when she came back to town in 1995.

“I think every female who moved to Warrenton was scooped up by my brother to sell ads,” Raiford said. “We’ve had some wonderful writers working for the Record over the years, including Mary Catherine Harris, Mary Hunter, Thurletta Brown, Kay Horner and Luci Weldon.”

Raiford also said her mother Grace was the best proofreader the paper ever had. And her younger sister, Ann Bignall, was meticulous in lining up and pasting copy prior to the press run.

The Last Jones

Howard passed away on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010. Fittingly, this was a deadline day, when Jennifer Harris and Luci Weldon did everything they could to produce a fitting tribute to the last Jones to run the paper.

Growing up, Howard sold newspapers in Warrenton; and after school completed chores such as melting metal, wrapping single wraps or putting up type.

After graduating from UNC, Jones became editor of the Roxboro Courier-Times. In 1965, he founded the Butner-Creedmoor News. Outside Warren County, he worked with newspapers in Henderson and Durham as well. 

As editor of The Warren Record, Jones was known for his coverage of all aspects of the community, from news to sports, and for his weekly “Here and There” column. Many people coming into The Record office will remember hearing him typing his articles on a manual Royal typewriter owned by his father.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Jones was also active in the community. He was a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Warrenton, where he was a member of the vestry and a past senior warden. Jones is also remembered for his involvement with the Rotary Club, Cherry Hill Foundation and Preservation Warrenton.

Telling tributes

Warrenton Commissioner Mary Hunter, a former news writer with The Warren Record, recalled that Jones would allow her unlimited access to The Record’s darkroom for developing photographs while she was Warren County Schools’ Community Schools director, describing him as a “real friend to public education in that regard.”

“It was a wonderful experience to work for him, and I regarded him as one of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” she said. “He taught me a lot about writing and how to write quickly.”

Warrenton real estate agent and resident Al Fleming said that Jones was a special friend.

“Howard Jones was without a doubt in my mind one of the most intelligent and gentlemanly people (I knew),” Fleming said. “He had what I would call a superb command of the English language, whether in his speaking or in his writing.”

Fleming described Jones as a man of “superb character.”

“He was a person of the very highest rank when it comes to human nature,” Fleming said. “I can’t say enough good about my old friend, Howard Jones.”

For her part, Mary Brodie said her brother was “an excellent newspaper man, in many ways better than Bignall. Howard didn’t enjoy confrontations,” she said. “Where Daddy would let things roll off his back, Howard didn’t have quite as thick skin. Howard was a great peacemaker, but Bignall was more willing to stir the pot. They had totally different temperaments.”

Raiford said what Howard enjoyed most about retirement was never getting an irate phone call. “In the newspaper business there is always someone who disagrees with one story or another,” Raiford said.

Even still, many were shocked when he sold the paper at the age of 63. For years, she said, “Everybody wanted to know, ‘what do you think of the paper now?’”

 

Family History

The Jones family came to Warren County from Isle of Wight, Va. in the 1730s, the first being Edward, followed by Robert, his son William Duke and his son Joseph Speed. William Duke owned a large plantation on the Franklin County line where sulphur springs were uncovered. He established Jones White Sulphur Springs where a train and carriages would transport people to the hotel and cottages. 

General Robert E. Lee’s daughter died at the Springs Hotel from Typhoid Fever. A distant cousin of the Jones family, Ms. Lee was buried in the family cemetery. Coincidentally, the date that Annie Carter Lee died is the same one on the deed when William sold the land to a Mr. Heck, for whom the Hecks Grove community is named.

 

All the Warren County news that’s fit to print

Raiford, whose first job was folding papers, said her father and brother always maintained that if it’s not related to Warren County it doesn’t go in the paper. She said her father was an excellent linotype operator who would invariably be smoking a cigarette as he set the type, which would generate a long ash that would drop and burn holes in his shirts.

“I can still hear the clanging of the press as the belts would start,” Raiford said.

“I’m the last one of my family and I miss them all. And the person I miss the most is my brother. I always want to ask him a question about who lived in that house or who moved here when. But he’s gone and there’s a hole where all that knowledge was.”

In 1964 Raiford moved to Charlotte, where she met her future husband, Pat Raiford. They lived in Charlotte, then Richmond, Va., Rocky Mount, Raleigh and Apex before returning to Warrenton 25 years ago. She taught elementary school off and on for 20 years, after her two children entered school. And for the past 13 years she has run the Cherry Hill Historical Foundation, located on a former Inez plantation established in 1858 and dedicated to promoting the arts since the foundation’s creation in 1982. 

When she first came back to town, Raiford said Howard wanted her to interview Raymond Harris from Macon and a few others about the old days in the county. But it never happened. 

“Once people are gone everything is secondhand,” she said. “If you don’t keep up on your history, you don’t understand why you are the person you are. We all have a responsibility to keep our story going. Once you stop telling it the history is lost.”