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Dr. Howard W. Jones Jr., pioneer in reproductive medicine, dies at 104
Dr. Howard W. Jones Jr., pioneer in reproductive medicine, dies at 104 (Baltimore Sun)

Dr. Howard W. Jones Jr., a Johns Hopkins physician who pioneered research into in vitro fertilization and oversaw the birth of the first "test tube" baby, died of respiratory failure Friday at Sentara Heart Hospital in Virginia, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. He was 104.

Dr. Jones also was the first physician at Johns Hopkins to examine Henrietta Lacks, an African-American patient whose cervical cancer tumor cells have been used in groundbreaking medical discoveries since the 1950s, according to the medical system.

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"Johns Hopkins has lost one of our true giants — as has the entire world of medicine and gynecology in particular," Paul B. Rothman, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement.

"Dr. Jones was one of the most remarkable individuals I've ever known — with a razor-sharp mind, memory and perspective that would be the envy of anyone half, or a quarter, of his age," Rothman said.

Jones and his wife, Dr. Georgeanna Seegar Jones, a former professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, became internationally known for their collaboration on the first baby conceived outside the mother's body in the United States.

In 1981, the Joneses announced the birth of Elizabeth Jordan Carr in Norfolk, Va., where they had established an in vitro fertilization program. Carr is now a web producer for Runner's World, according to her father, Roger Carr.

"There aren't enough words to describe what he meant to us," Roger Carr said in an interview. "He was more than a doctor, he was more like family. He was more like a grandfather to Elizabeth. We were very, very upset when we heard he passed."

Howard Jones was born in Baltimore, the son of a physician. He graduated from Amherst College and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. During World War II, he joined the Army and served as a battlefield surgeon in France and Germany, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

He and his wife joined the Hopkins part-time faculty in 1948. They maintained private practices while working at the hospital, and became full-time faculty in 1960. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the Joneses left Baltimore in 1978 because of the hospital's policy that faculty retire at 65.

Dr. Jones also was known for his research on genital anomalies. He helped found the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic in 1965, the first sex-change clinic in an American hospital.

He performed operations on intersexual patients, or those born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that don't fit typical definitions of male or female. He also performed some of the first sex-change operations for transsexuals.

Dr. Edward Wallach, professor emeritus at the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, called Dr. Jones a "devotee" of Hopkins who returned each year from 1984 to 2014 for a lectureship that honored him and his wife.

Jones often thought about how his work could better people's lives, including those who had trouble conceiving, Dr. Wallach said in an interview.

"He was always driven to answer questions, and the question was, in this case, how to create life without the usual mechanism," Dr. Wallach said.

Dr. Jones was tall, good-looking and "spry," with a baritone voice that could command a room, Dr. Wallach said. He was devoted to intellectual pursuits and his family. "A person like this comes along very, very infrequently," Dr. Wallach said.

"His philosophy was to keep yourself alive by keeping your mind alive and being insatiable in terms of your interests and ability to understand what's going on about us," Dr. Wallach said.

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Dr. Jones retired from his medical practice in 2000 but published his most recent book, "In Vitro Fertilization Comes to America: Memoir of a Medical Breakthrough," last year.

Dr. Andrew J. Satin, director of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said that even in his final days Dr. Jones contributed to the field of reproductive medicine. He said they spoke about once a month about the latest advancements.

"This guy was 104 years old, and our young Ph.D.s couldn't hold a candle to him," Dr. Satin said in an interview. "We show up at work every day trying to live up to all that he's done."

Dr. Jones is survived by three children, Howard W. Jones III of Nashville, Tenn., Georgeanna Jones Klingensmith of Denver and Lawrence Jones of Denver; seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

His wife, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, died in 2005.

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