SHELTON, Conn. — Everyone knows the Jones Family Farms in Shelton — "that's where mom and dad took us to get our Christmas tree," says Gov. Dannel Malloy.
And it seems that everyone in Shelton and beyond knew Philip H. Jones Jr., the patriarch of the Jones family who passed away Aug. 10 on the farm he loved, just a few weeks shy of his 97th birthday.
A crowd filled the auditorium last Saturday at the Shelton Intermediate School for a celebration and tribute to the man who revolutionized the Christmas tree industry in Connecticut.
Malloy joined the many speakers at the event, reminiscing on his first encounter with Jones back in December 1984.
"My brothers always told us they drove up to Shelton and cut down their own Christmas trees," said Malloy. "And I thought, 'How crazy!'"
But Malloy said he jumped on the bandwagon that year and made the drive from Stamford to Stratford with his then-pregnant wife. It is a tradition his family continues to this day, coming down now from the Governor's Residence to pick out their own trees.
"We came a few weeks back, we were drinking wine and tagging our trees and visiting the family," Malloy said in his eulogy. "But we missed Philip."
The governor, like the other speakers at the service, talked about how much Jones loved his Shelton farm, and how his work as a farmer was a metaphor for living a good life.
"Farmers remind of us of who we are," Malloy said. "They remind us that we need good roots ... we need to be watered ... we need to have the sun shine on us ... we need to be rejuvenated season after season. And that is what Philip did for us."
Jones, who died at age 96 on the farm where he had lived his entire life, had a penchant for collecting stamps, books, "not-so friendly Valentines" and ephemera; volunteering with conservation, civic and outdoor groups; picking up stones on his property; and driving a beat-up pickup truck.
But Jones will probably best be remembered for his Christmas trees. He began planting evergreens in the late 1930s and within a decade found that people were eager to cut their own Christmas trees.
Terry Jones spoke of how his father became a pioneer in the Christmas Tree industry by the 1950s, with other would-be tree growers seeking his expertise.
One man came down from Roxbury, and Philip Jones gave him tree-growing advice, ending it with this witticism: "Don't grow more trees than your wife can take of."
The man? It was playwright Arthur Miller, who at the time was married to Marilyn Monroe.
"Now you know why the playwright never went into the Christmas tree business," said Terry Jones.
The event ended with one final tribute to Philip Jones. Volunteers dished up his favorite snack of cider, apples and cookies.
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