After 46 years of serving patients, families and the central Kansas community, Dr. Edward “Dusty” Jones has officially retired from St. Rose Health Center.
However, as a pathologist, he puts in a few hours a week as the coroner for the 20th and 24th Judicial Districts. A coroner conducts death investigations, including unattended and suspicious deaths, as well as those resulting from traffic or other accidents.
While Dr. Jones is glad he is still using his expertise in this role, he acknowledged that he already misses performing autopsies.
“In Great Bend, we used to perform about 100 a year,” Dr. Jones said. “But we were down to about 10 or 12 with the changes in the health-care system here.
“The goal was always to answer the family’s questions,” he added. “But we also invited high school students and others who wanted to learn. A vast majority got interested in the science.”
One autopsy spectator who developed an interest is Dr. Jones’ wife, Debbie. She eventually worked for her husband in the autopsy room.
“Debbie didn’t want anything to do with it at first,” Dr. Jones recalled. “But then she came and observed one, then another.”
She and her husband pursued formal education, which included classes on cold case and other investigations at George Mason University in Virginia. Henry Lee, the nationally known criminalist and forensic scientist, was involved.
“I always enjoyed biology and told myself to keep an open mind,” Debbie said. “An autopsy makes you realize we are all alike. It totally humbles you. It is incredible to think that all the organs can work together. It is amazing to seek out what happened to this person.”
The layman might believe that a pathologist doesn’t have much to do with patients’ families. But Dr. Jones noted that “comforting families is a large part of it. The biggest thing they want to know is if their loved one suffered.”
Dr. Jones also appeared in court at times to explain the circumstances of a death to a judge and/or jury.
In addition, he served as medical director of the St. Rose lab and was involved in many surgical cases. “Anything removed during a surgery – anything – has to be examined,” he explained. “Since I was a concessionaire and not actually employed by the facility, I worked for patients, including people in surgery.”
Dr. Jones was born in 1935 in Wellington during a dust storm – thus the lifelong nickname “Dusty.” The family moved to Dodge City when he was a toddler and he graduated from Dodge City High School in 1953. Debbie is his second wife; his first wife, Barbara, passed away in 1998.
His four children are Kim Vink, Sheila Jones and Matthew Jones, all of Great Bend; and Tom Jones of Overland Park. Debbie’s sons are Brian, Kevin, Steve, Chris and David Clarke.
He graduated from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1961 and took a position at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita.
“Then my draft board called,” Dr. Jones recalled. “I volunteered real quick; Vietnam was just starting up.”
He joined the Coast Guard and served at the Fort Yuma (Az.) Indian Hospital. (The Coast Guard was responsible for Indian Services at the time.) He attained a rank equivalent to Navy Captain. Dr. Jones was in the reserves for about eight years and then resigned.
In 1963, he joined a family practice in Lawrence for 18 months. “I was never home,” he recalled. “We had to cover the ER. In pathology, you had some after-hours calls but usually your days were for work and evenings were for family, hobbies and fun.”
He accepted a position at Central Kansas Medical Center in 1969 and shared pathology duties with the late Dr. Jerome Sayler. He later worked alongside Dr. Rex Degner, who moved to Hutchinson a number of years ago.
“With the transition from a hospital to an ambulatory and surgery center to today’s new St. Rose Health Center, the workload decreased,” Dr. Jones said.
In addition to his regular medical duties, Dr. Jones served on the CKMC Board of Directors and was chief of the medical staff. He also was a part-time pathologist for Hays Medical Center, which now co-owns St. Rose with Centura Health.
Now that he works as a coroner only a few hours a week, Dr. Jones enjoys sleeping a little later, and spending time at the gym and with his hobbies.
“I have been a lifelong singer,” he commented. “I sing in church and community choirs, and did plays at Barton Community College and Community Theater.
“And I still take voice lessons at the college,” he added. “It is just like medicine. You never learn it all.”
St. Rose specializes in primary care, prevention and wellness. Services include St. Rose Family Medicine & Urgent Care, Great Bend Internists, imaging, infusion clinic, WellnessWorks, one-day surgical procedures, Golden Belt Home Health & Hospice and a comprehensive Specialty Clinic. St. Rose is co-owned by Hays Medical Center and Centura Health.