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Donald Jones, mentor of young Hillary Rodham, dies

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April 25, 2009 04:52 AM EST | AP


MADISON, N.J. — Drew University professor and Methodist minister Donald G. Jones, who was spiritual mentor for a young Hillary Rodham Clinton, died Thursday at age 78.

University spokesman David Muha said Jones _ who taught social ethics for 36 years at the Madison school _ died at Morristown Memorial Hospital of natural causes.

Jones served in the Navy and then attended Augustana College in South Dakota and graduated in 1957. Four years later, he became an ordained minister through Drew's theological school.

His first pastorate was at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill., where he met a young Hillary Rodham while leading the church's youth group. At the time, Rodham was a high school freshman.

Colleagues said Jones introduced his students to a world outside of what they knew, such as taking them to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preach in Chicago in 1962. He resigned after two years due to concerns about what some considered to be controversial methods.

"He loves to tell Hillary stories, and the respect and the affection is mutual," Charles Courtney, a retired Drew professor and a friend of Jones, told the Daily Record of Morristown. "He loves her and she loves him. He was pretty formative for her. ... He exposed her to some wider horizons than she was getting in conservative Park Ridge."

After leaving his minister's post, Jones returned to Drew to teach and earn his doctorate, but he and Rodham remained close friends. In her memoir, "Living History," Clinton credits Jones with being a major influence in her life.

Clinton said she was deeply saddened to hear of the minister's death.

"Don taught me the meaning of the words 'faith in action' and the importance of social justice and human rights," she said in a statement. "I will miss him and will be grateful forever for the gift of his intelligence, counsel, kindness and support over many years."

Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who now serves as Drew's president, praised Jones' many contributions to the school and his impact on those who knew him.

"He was an institution, a mentor to a whole generation of students and a pastor to others," Kean told The Star-Ledger of Newark.

Jones is survived by his wife, two sons and two grandchildren. Drew plans to hold a memorial service May 9.