Essendon legend Jack Jones won't get the send-off he deserves

Needless to say, these are scary times in this country. Life is changing, perhaps forever, before our very eyes, the havoc being wreaked by an insidious virus already enormous, the worst probably still to come.

In that context, the problems facing the AFL, considerable though they are, need to be kept in perspective.

Yes, our indigenous game loved by so many, has been completely halted for the first time in nearly 125 years.

The financial toll on the league, on clubs, players, the structure of the competition, may be felt for years after we eventually resume. But at some stage, it will resume.

War veteran and Essendon ambassador Jack Jones (middle left) passed away on March 24 after being diagnosed with cancer in December. He is pictured here with (from left) John Worsfold, Senior Coach of the Bombers, Pete Smith OAM and Dyson Heppell of the Bombers at an ANZAC ceremony in 2018 in Melbourne. Picture by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images.

War veteran and Essendon ambassador Jack Jones (middle left) passed away on March 24 after being diagnosed with cancer in December. He is pictured here with (from left) John Worsfold, Senior Coach of the Bombers, Pete Smith OAM and Dyson Heppell of the Bombers at an ANZAC ceremony in 2018 in Melbourne. Picture by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images.

Sadly, though, without the continued presence of a man whose values, generosity of spirit and sheer decency, let alone his own always modestly-expressed achievements, were a shining example not just to the game of football, but to all of us.

Jack Jones passed away on Tuesday, aged 95, after being diagnosed with cancer last December.

Even at that age, for most people who knew him, that news was a shock.

As his granddaughter, Fox Sports presenter Sarah put it in a social media post: "I thought he would live forever".

Jack was perhaps the youngest old person a lot of us have ever met, his gentle, selfless and positive nature, his enthusiasm for life well into his 10th decade never diminished.

As Australia braces itself for arguably the toughest period we have endured as a nation since the Great Depression, he was exactly the type of personality who, not for the first time, would have proved perfect for the circumstances.

He continued into his 90s to lead groups of Essendon fans on guided tours of the club.

Many would have remained unaware of Jones's own stature as a former Bomber who'd played 175 games, in seven grand finals and in three premierships during the club's most sustained period of success.

He'd attended his first game at the age of eight, the day the great Dick Reynolds debuted for the Dons.

He'd end up playing most of his career alongside him, and, of course, legendary full-forward John Coleman.

But that was only after Jones had served his country in World War II.

He was called up as a 19-year-old who'd never even left his own state, soon witnessing the sorts of horrors incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't been through them.

He spent 22 months in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, then had to wait another four months for a boat home after the war had finished. Of his company, 91 were killed and 197 wounded.

"It was outrageous, the war. No one wins a bloody war," he said with some passion when I interviewed him in 2011 before the traditional Essendon-Collingwood Anzac Day clash, a game for which he became something of a living symbol.

Jack saw soldiers killed while standing next to him, others succumb to their wounds or illness such as malaria, and another who couldn't face the prospect of returning to that Pacific nightmare take his own life.

"I was just lucky," he said, almost apologetically.

"The bullet or shrapnel didn't have my name on it, yet the bloke standing next to you is gone, just like that. It's just the luck of the draw."

Confronting stuff indeed for a teenager. But still even by the time he was in his 80s, when he travelled to Japan. He'd been reluctant, but not for the reasons you might first think.

"Just seeing all the young kids there. You don't know what things you might have done to their grandparents. There must have been someone's grandparent that was in the war. It's hard to cope with."

But Jack revelled in life regardless, his ambassadorial duties with Essendon arguably making him even better known than he'd been in his playing days.

It was a role he'd taken up with relish. "It keeps you young, and I've always told my kids you're never too old to learn," he said.

And Jack loved being surrounded by kids, as part of a big and loving family. He had six children, 11 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren, with another due in May.

He passed away at home, his 95-year-old wife Mary present, at the same house in which they had lived for 56 years.

Jones truly represented the sort of Australia we like to think we are. And had these been anything like normal times, Jack's funeral would have drawn thousands. Sadly, by necessity, he won't get the send-off he deserves.

Jack's funeral would have drawn thousands. Sadly, by necessity, he won't get the send-off he deserves.

But when you talk about perspective, about dealing with matters as they are, be it a temporary halt to the game so many of us live and breathe, or the far more sobering realisation that even saying goodbye to those we love in a fitting manner has for now been compromised, you know Jack would have been philosophical.

"You're just all in it together in one bunch," he told me back in 2011 about how he handled the horrors of war. "It's just like a football team running out there. You have to play your part. And we had to play ours."

Right now, not just for those who knew him, but for all of us, they seem pretty sage words.

This story Essendon legend Jack Jones dies at 95 first appeared on The Canberra Times.