Julia Hughes Jones' political life set path for others

Arkansas state Auditor Julia Hughes Jones is shown in Little Rock in this Aug. 1, 1994 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Arkansas state Auditor Julia Hughes Jones is shown in Little Rock in this Aug. 1, 1994 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Julia Hughes Jones -- a trailblazer for women in Arkansas -- died at 83 in St. Augustine, Fla., on Wednesday.

She was the first woman elected to a Pulaski County office when she won the circuit clerk position in 1976, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. She also became the first woman elected to a state position when she took the office of state auditor in 1981.

"Julia Hughes Jones was a trailblazer and will always be remembered as breaking the glass ceiling in state politics," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday in a statement. "I knew her personally since we campaigned together across the state. She was a joy to be around and paved the way for many to follow in public service."

Auditor Andrea Lea tweeted Thursday that Jones served "honorably" as auditor from 1981 to 1995. She also referred to Jones as a "trailblazer."

Jones was an Arkansas native and graduated from Camden High School. She attended the University of Arkansas and University of Arkansas at Little Rock and completed Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government.

She rose through politics while raising her three children from her first marriage to Charles Hughes. She later married the Arkansas Gazette state editor, James H. Jones Jr., in 1979 and leaves behind a stepchild from that marriage.

Lori Hughes Barnes, a daughter of Jones, called her mother "gutsy" Thursday.

"There were times as a woman she got picked on," Barnes said. "Some of the reporters in Arkansas picked on her. She stood firm. She was truthful and honest and always looked out for the people of Arkansas. They always came first."

Barnes said she was young when her mother ran for state auditor and she remembers going door to door and car to car campaigning with her siblings and friends.

"We were always impressed as her daughters with her guts," Barnes said. "When she made up her mind she did it. She failed a few times. She always said, 'You learn from your failures and move on.'"

Her career started as a chief investigator and warrant officer for the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney's office in 1973. She kept the position until winning the circuit clerk seat, according to Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

The website says she "narrowly lost the runoff election" for secretary of state in 1978 and announced her plans to run for state auditor in 1980. She also lost elections for the U.S. Senate in 1993 and secretary of state in 1994.

Jones retired to Florida in 1995 and published the book "The Secret History of Weeds: What Women Need to Know about Their History."

Many of her speeches were published in national publications and she continued to work as a public speaker, her obituary says.

"She enjoyed her later years in life happy and comfortable," Barnes said. "That is all we can ask for."

 Gallery: Julia Hughes Jones, 1939-2022

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