A Tribute to Marv Jones

Marv Jones died on February 8, 2017, several months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When I learned last year that Marv’s condition was terminal, denial set in immediately. Mainly because I could not imagine a world without Marv Jones in it. Also because I could not accept the idea that a man as full of life as Marv could ever die. Over the succeeding months I, like many others, reluctantly came to terms with the fact that I’ll have to live the rest of my earthly life with a very big hole in it. Marv took up a lot of space, not just by the size of his physical frame, but by the magnitude of his spirit. It’s a void so large it can never be refilled, in this life, at least. It’s a void that everyone who knew him is going to have to figure out how to press on through.

I can’t think of any phase of my life that Marv was not a part of. His towering countenance and his booming voice are deeply embedded in my earliest memories. I grew up listening to stories, fortunate to be sitting in the middle on the pickup seat as those stories flowed like honey between Marv Jones and Kelton Hafen. The stories were real when I was a boy. They’ve since become legend. And now they are entering into the realm of myth, as no knight in shining armor or conquering hero could ever supplant Marv Jones in my mind.

My childhood and boyhood memories of Marv are of a man who knew how to do things, and did them well. He was the one everyone turned to, to make sure serious things got done, and to ensure that fun times were made even more fun. Of course, Marv was not perfect. He had his weaknesses, as all humans do, but that was part of what made him so real. We leaned on Marv for everything, because he was always there, and because he was always the most competent and willing person in the group. I looked up to Marv all my life with a level of respect and admiration that one reserves for only a select few. I always felt secure in his presence, physically and emotionally. And Marv Jones’s approval meant more to me than any treasure I can imagine.

Among the memories I hold most sacred are horse pack trips over Pine Valley Mountain. They were times never to be duplicated. One has not truly lived who has not ridden up the Mountain to North Valley and set up camp on the edge of the meadow, and sat down to eat the perfectly prepared Dutch oven cooking of Marv Jones, and lingered into the night listening to the stories and hearing Marv’s high pitched hearty laugh carry through the tall pines and fade off into heaven. I’ve heard that laugh echo rim to rim from the bottom of Twin Canyon on the Arizona Strip, to the top of Clover Mountain in Nevada. And I’ve heard it from the stands of the Dixie Sun Bowl to the bleachers of the State Finals Rodeo at Lagoon, and I’ve heard it fill the entire Thomas and Mack Center at the National Finals in Las Vegas. Come to think about it, I’ve heard that wonderful laugh after shooting every buck I ever bagged, and during or after nearly every important event in my life. That laugh was the definition of joy.

Marv Jones was bigger than life. He lived every minute to the fullest. And he made my life bigger in ways that can’t be expressed in words. I thank his children, Terry, Tammy, Leslie and Randy, for sharing their dad with me and with so many others whose lives he touched.

The image I will always carry of Marv is him riding his old horse Rampton across the high meadows of Pine Valley Mountain. I see the biggest man with the biggest heart atop the biggest horse in the county. Sitting tall and smiling at all of God’s creation. During my last visit with Marv as I sat on the edge of the bed holding his hand and seeing only the point of his hip bone poking up like a tent pole under the blanket, I heard him tell some of the stories one more time. Most of them had to do with horses, the great ones and the wild ones. I couldn’t help but remember the words of one of my favorite writers, Tom McGuane, who wrote, “The fragility of horses helps us see the difference between what is there in flesh and what is there in spirit. Men who have spent their lives with horses remember those spirits perfectly, and in that distinction lies an intimation of mortality that makes stockmen of every kind powerful company.”

At the end, Marv’s towering body had become a small assemblage of bones beneath that blanket, but his big, booming, thundering spirit had not diminished – it had only magnified, and of all the wonderful stories he recalled that morning, perhaps the last one he told me was most telling. He shared how only a week or so earlier his son Randy had been called to serve in a bishopric. And how he had recently been honored to perform a Priesthood ordination for his brother. In the end, this man who had lived the most hearty temporal life of anyone I knew, was focused most on spiritual matters. I’ve never seen Marv Jones look so proud. And I realized then, that I had never sat in such powerful company.

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