Obituary: Sports-loving lawyer George Jones ‘marched to his own beat’

George Jones, who came to prominence through sports and his work as a lawyer, died Monday at age 86.

Jones, a key member of the successful 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games bid committee, had a style all his own.

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“He came across as a mix of Mr. Magoo and Peter Falk in Columbo,” son Brett Jones said. “But that was just his facade. He was one of Canada’s most important and respected tax lawyers. His cases changed some of the tax code.”

Jones was a strong supporter of women’s rugby and his wry flair was evident when he was carried into the room on a stretcher by the Canadian national team for a roast in his honour at the Empress on his 80th birthday. The 350 tickets for the event sold out immediately with a waiting list of 400 people, and it raised more than $80,000 for rugby bursaries.

“When you think of rugby at the Velox club or national team levels, it’s hard not to think of George Jones. He was especially passionate about the women’s game,” his son said.

Jones’s most high-profile case as a lawyer came when he represented the Germany-born Frank Hertel, whose International Electronics Corp. was launched in 1984 in Victoria under a federal scientific tax credits program. The company promised to turn the Island into Canada’s Silicon Valley. But the scheme collapsed after Revenue Canada (now the Canada Revenue Agency) said it was owed more than $30 million in back taxes and began seizing assets in 1985.

Hertel was charged with conspiracy to evade payment of $1.2 million in taxes and with making a false statement for the 1984 taxation year. Hertel fled Victoria for Venezuela in 1986 and spent many years eluding the RCMP and Interpol in Europe and South America before being arrested in London at Heathrow Airport in 2009. Hertel remains jailed in England.

When entering federal government buildings or offices in subsequent years, Jones would cheekily sign-in at the front desk as Frank Hertel.

“He had such a mischievous and self-deprecating sense of humour,” said Brett Jones.

It was during a trip to Venezuela to consult with Hertel that Jones picked up a parasite that attacked his liver and affected his health for the rest of his life.

Despite the glitzy case, several Island sports and advocacy organizations remember Jones for representing them pro bono.

“If groups needed help, he would step up to help,” said Brett Jones.

“Although my dad came from privilege, he loved the underdog and the under-represented and fought for them.”

George Jones was born in Victoria on Sept. 22, 1933. His father was vice-admiral George Jones, chief of naval staff of the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. His mother, Helen Fordham Johnson, was the daughter of John William Fordham Johnson, B.C.’s lieutenant-governor from 1931 to 1936.

He grew up in grand homes — Fordham Johnson had the largest home in B.C. at one time. Jones attended Brentwood College and Lakefield College School in Ontario before attending the University of British Columbia for his undergraduate studies and law degree. He was called to the bar in 1958 and practised for more than 50 years.

Brett Jones said his father was “always a mischief maker.” One tale involved blowing up locker room toilets as a practical joke. “He had nicknames for everyone. You weren’t special unless he had a nickname for you.”

Among them was “The Buzzard,” which he affectionately called his nanny while growing up.

After graduation, Jones worked for Revenue Canada in Ottawa for five years. He returned to Victoria in 1964, joining Jake DeVilliers in private practice before forming his own firm, Jones Emery. He finished his career at Horne Coupar.

“In both sports and the law, George was a renegade, outlier and he marched to his own beat,” said former rugby player Mike Holmes, who was Jones’s law partner for 10 years.

“He took on some high-profile cases. But when anyone asked him for help, he helped them. He was an advocate in sports also, for many things, including women’s rugby. He loved to champion the underdog.”

“George was always a gentleman, even if we disagreed,” said Andre Rachert, now a Victoria tax lawyer, who began his career with the Canada Revenue Agency and faced off against Jones.

“He had a big heart with a strong sense of right and wrong. He was foul-mouthed but charming and ethical and fiercely loyal.”

A feisty and accomplished player as a youth, Jones founded the Rugby Canada Foundation in 1975 and arranged for a $1-million donation to get it running. The foundation continues to expand and awards the annual George F. Jones Scholarship for youths in under-served communities who would otherwise not be able to play the game he so loved.

Jones founded the Rugby Canada men’s and women’s national team players associations and was a founding member of the University Heights Athletic Association (Velox), Braefoot Athletic Association and the National Sports Committee.

He was inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame with the Class of 2012.

“George was the type of character who comes along once in a generation,” said rugby great Mark Wyatt of Victoria, who played in two World Cups for Canada, once as captain.

“He was larger than life and impossible to miss. And always well intentioned. He helped out so many sports and other organizations. He had the capacity and knowledge to get things done. And he got things done. He was just that guy.”

Jones was living at the Kiwanis Pavilion on Cedar Hill Road when he died. He was predeceased by wife Lou (née Sine) and is survived by wife Linda (née Bowles), children Lynne, Wendy, Cate, Sue, Brett, Scott and Sara, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and sister Helen Heaney.

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the George F. Jones Scholarship through Rugby Canada or the other charities he was heavily involved with including the Elder Care Foundation, Cridge Centre for the Family, Parkinson Canada and Kiwanis Pavilion.

A life-honouring ceremony, and charity rugby game in Jones’ honour, is planned for next year.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

— With Times Colonist files from Carla Wilson, Lindsay Kines, Darron Kloster and Rob Shaw

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