Arthur Howell remembers Bobby Jones as a modest man

Arthur Howell remembers Bobby Jones as a modest man

Jones's triumphs in golf are well-documented, but Howell says he knew his vocabulary too.
Greg Foster/SI

I’m 91 years old, and I knew Bob Jones from the time I could talk, which in my case was on the young side. At Bob’s funeral in 1971 an elderly lady said to me, “Is that you, little Arthur? I remember when you were a boy. You were precocious.” I hope Bob would have been pleased. He wanted to hear words used correctly.

Soon after Bob’s death, Augusta National gave Bob the title President in Perpetuity. Perpetuity — I think Bob would have found that too grand. He was truly modest.

Bob and I were law partners. He had a degree in English literature from Harvard, and you could tell. Once, hearing me use sanguine in conversation, Bob said, “Arthur, you don’t mean that.” He sent me to the dictionary. I thought sanguine meant “pessimistic.” Just the opposite. It means “cheerfully optimistic.” Bob knew.

My father, an insurance underwriter who wrote the first product liability insurance for Coca-Cola, and Bob’s father, a lawyer, were good friends and played golf together often at East Lake, in Atlanta. Bob’s father represented the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., and Bob had interests in Coca-Cola Bottling plants. I represented Bob on corporate law issues related to those plants. Sometime in the late ’60s Bob and I went to New York when some of the plants were being sold. We were staying in a posh hotel, and Bob ordered a Coke. The charge for a bottle of the black bubbly was $1.50. I remarked that back home that same bottle might have cost a quarter. Mocking my penury and defending Coke’s honor, Bob said, “That’s the first time you’ve paid what a Coca-Cola is really worth!”

Bob’s modesty was such that he made no arrangements in his will for the commercial use of his name. For years I oversaw the licensing of his name on behalf of his heirs. We didn’t say yes often. We allowed Ely Callaway, who was distantly related to the Jones family, to put the Bobby Jones name on a line of golf clubs. We allowed Hickey-Freeman to put out a Bobby Jones clothing line.

Bob always wore the club’s green jacket when he was at Augusta National. I was with Bob in the Jones Cabin, with the amateur golfer Charlie Coe, when Jack Nicklaus was winning the 1965 Masters. Bob was watching on TV and said, “He’s playing a game I’m not familiar with.” By the time that quote got in the newspapers, it became: “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” That’s a modest statement and a grammatically correct one too. I don’t think Bob would care much for today’s Masters. I think he’d find it too commercial and too big.

For years Bob lived with his wife and three children on Tuxedo Road in Atlanta. There wasn’t a nod to his golf career in it, not that I recall. Bob had a chauffeur who drove him everywhere, not because he was haughty but because he couldn’t drive himself, owing to the pain and paralysis caused by syringomyelia, the awful spinal disease.

One day in 1958 I received a call from Bob that still stands out. “Arthur,” he said, “I’d like to come see you.” Here was Bob Jones, already suffering from his painful condition, wanting to call on me. I said, “Bob, I’ll come see you.” But he wouldn’t hear of it.

He came over by chauffeur and walked into our conference room by cane. Bob said, “I think it would be a good idea if I brought my firm over to yours. Think about it. If you like it, fine. If you don’t, I’ll go home and play bridge.” Our firm became Jones, Byrd & Howell. The Jones name came not from Bob but from his father. That’s why he allowed it to go first.

For me, it is Bob’s modesty that will live on in perpetuity. From the Latin, implying “permanence.” I looked it up.

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