PLANT CITY – Jim Jones had just graduated Turkey Creek High School in 1972 and wanted to settle on a career.
He narrowed it down to a couple of options.
His father, James “Sonny” Jones, was a principal so he thought about education.
Other family members had owned grocery stores – and he was already working part-time at Publix – so he considered pursuing that line of work.
In the end, the Plant City native felt the grocery business would be more rewarding – personally, professionally and financially.
He’s glad he took the career path, which ended May 2 with his retirement 42 years after he started as a bagboy.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my work and I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “I loved my time at Publix.”
Jones was among the longest tenured Publix employees at the time of his retirement. He will be missed by his colleagues, who watched him advance into store management.
“Jim Jones was the embodiment of the Publix commitment to service,” said Brian West, a longtime friend, Plant City native and Publix media and communications manager.
Jones got his first job, as a 14-year-old, stocking and bagging groceries at Bill and Verna’s Grocery at State Road 60 and Mud Lake Road. The store was owned by his aunt and uncle, Bill and Verna Smith.
“They sold the store in my senior year and I had to find a new job,” he said.
He landed part-time work at Plant City’s only Publix at the time, 1401 S. Collins St., now a Save-A-Lot location. Less than a year after his high school graduation, he became a full-time stock clerk.
On March 3, 1979, he was promoted into the ranks of management as the “third man” behind the store manager and assistant manager. In February 1983, he became assistant manager and three years later he made full store manager.
Jones worked at 15 different stores during his career, including Zephyrhills, Bradenton, St. Petersburg, Temple Terrace, Valrico and Tampa. His last assignment was at a Brandon Publix.
His longest tenure, from 1992 to 2008, was manager at the Publix at 2202 James L. Redman Parkway.
He and his wife of nearly 38 years, Carolyn, raised their two daughters, Krista and Katie, in Plant City. The family lived in Plant City even when he worked at out of town Publix stores, although he had an apartment in Bradenton during his year working there, coming home to Plant City on his days off.
Jones liked working in a business where he could meet a lot of people and serve a very basic need – providing customers with something to eat.
He said his philosophy never wavered in his relationship with shoppers.
“They were the kings and queens. If you take care of your customers, they will take care of you,” he said.
He also liked being a manager where he could hire and inspire others, including teenagers who working for the first time.
Working as a manager of a large supermarket required long hours, including work at nights, weekends and holidays. But he found it rewarding.
“Every day was different. You’d have different people coming in to shop every day. I really liked that,” he said.
But he also missed out on on some special occasions in his personal life due to his work commitments. Sometimes he couldn’t be there for birthdays, anniversaries and services at his longtime church, Hopewell Baptist.
The 59-year-old has a lot of goals in his retirement, including spending more time with his wife, his adult daughters and his six grandchildren. He wants to travel a bit, relax and pursue his hobbies such as photography.
“And I’m going to take out my rod and reel and see if they still work,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to catching up on all those things I couldn’t do while I was working.”