By Sean Ferrier-Watson
This past April Dr. Dan R. Jones, President of Texas A&M University–Commerce from 2008 to 2016, tragically passed away in Commerce, Texas, to the shock and dismay of his friends and colleagues. Not only did his passing leave a deep void in Texas higher education, but his unexpected death affected my life and my family’s profoundly. Dan was my father-in-law.
He was also my role model in higher education, exemplifying the values I hold dear as a young educator and scholar, particularly his great love and respect for the teaching of literature, history, and writing. Dan was a consummate scholar of American Studies, dabbling in a wide array of subjects, from journalism and history to music and literature. He earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa. He also held an M.A. in English from Rice University and another in American Studies from the University of Iowa.
His love for American Studies knew few bounds and his appreciation for the American Studies Association of Texas is one of the reasons I pursued a role in the organization. ASAT was one of the first true connections I made with Dan.
When I presented at my first ASAT conference back in 2012, Dan supported and encouraged me, touting the organization’s reputation for friendliness toward new scholars. When I had an article published in the 2013 issue of JASAT, Dan expressed to me his sense of indebtedness toward the organization and its journal. Before becoming an administrator, Dan taught as an assistant professor at the University of Houston–Downtown, where he published two articles in JASAT and held regular membership in the organization. These articles were critical in gaining his tenure and by extension establishing his career in higher education.
When going through a few boxes from his office this summer, I found his contributor copies from JASAT and had a chance to read over his articles —“The Fiction of Fact: Journalism As American Art” (1988) and “Madness, Mayhem, and Mystery: the Story of Murder in Texas” (1992). His voice felt remarkably familiar—his choice of diction, the crispness of his phrases, his subtle but strangely direct manner of presenting his points. I knew it so well. It was a voice I loved and admired—the voice of my wife—who is now close to finishing her own Ph.D. in creative writing at University of North Texas.
When reading his article “The Fiction of Fact,” I also realized just how strong a focus we shared in our scholarship. I knew Dan had an interest in New Journalism and the writings of Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote, but I never realized that both of us shared in a mutual fascination with their ability to blur the lines between the real and the fabricated, the expected and the unexpected.
If I had read these articles earlier, before Dan had passed away, I might have asked him about his feelings on the Beats, whether he liked the writings of Jack Kerouac, a contemporary of Capote’s, and a writer that set the stage for New Journalism, but these are conversations Dan and I will never share. In reading these articles, I discovered a part of Dan I never knew and missed a conversation we never had with each other. I am grateful to JASAT for preserving his ideas in the pages of their journal, and
I am glad to serve within an organization that publishes articles by scholars like Dan Jones.