By Arya Hodjat | [email protected]
Petey Jones, a longtime employee of T.C. Williams High School and a member of the championship-winning 1971 football team depicted in the movie “Remember The Titans,” died Monday of prostate cancer. He was 65.
Jones played fullback for the Titans his senior season, the year that Alexandria’s schools desegregated. That season, Jones helped T.C. claim the state championship and unite a city still heavily divided on racial lines.
“Being part of this team, it taught us a lot of life lessons, like how to respect each other,” Jones said in a 2018 interview with Alexandria City Public Schools. “Black and white, a lot of us … learned how to carry ourselves in a respectful way, the way we got along on that team.”
In the 2000 film, which dramatized the events of the season, Jones was portrayed by Donald Faison.
“What really resonated with me was how much he loved the Titans,” Faison wrote in an Instagram post on Monday. “It’s incredible how many people, over the years, have told me how much they loved Petey Jones and his Titan adventures and how it has impacted their lives … their kids’ lives … and so on.”
After his playing days were over, Jones entered into public service, first working in the city’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, then as a security guard for T.C. Williams for three decades, before retiring last November.
“I was always astounded when visitors came to T.C. to see the school memorialized in Hollywood history and had time to interact with Petey to talk about our school and its rich history,” T.C. Williams principal Peter Balas said in a statement. “Petey was always generous with his time and wisdom with our guests, often leaving them in tears of emotion and joy.”
Bill Euille, an alumnus of T.C. Williams and the city’s first black mayor, said that when he’d run into Jones at his alma mater, Jones would often tell him that he hoped to be as famous as he was.
“I’d respond, jokingly, ‘Someday I want to be like you, because you’re more famous than I am. Folks all around the world know you as Petey Jones,’” Euille said.
Born at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital on Nov. 20, 1953, Jones grew up and spent the majority of his life in Alexandria.
Bob Luckett, who played center for the 1971 Titans team, remembered Jones as a prankster. Luckett recalled one game where Jones hid a teammate’s uniform, only revealing that he was the culprit moments before kickoff.
“He got in trouble because he took a guy’s uniform,” Luckett said. “And the other guy got in trouble because he didn’t keep track of his stuff.”
After the movie’s 2000 release, Luckett said Jones took his newfound fame in stride, never missing an opportunity to speak in public and give back to his community.
“When people see us get together, they’re really taken aback by how close we are, how much love there is between us,” he said. “He probably had the biggest heart of anyone I know.”
Bob Trout, a longtime teacher at T.C. Williams, remembered working football games with Jones while he was a security guard. Jones was always the point person when people came from out of town to tour the now-famous school, Trout said, still supporting his football team off the field.
“If the kids didn’t have shoes, or they were hungry, even though Petey had a job … that didn’t pay much, he always would make sure they’d compete,” Trout said. “If they needed something, he would supply that.”
“It’s a tremendous loss,” Euille said. “Not only for T.C. Williams and the Titans, but for the city as a whole.”