This is a story about Compo Beach lifeguards, stage 4 cancer, Stew Leonard and inner-city children.
If you don’t think they’re all related, you don’t know Westport.
And you really don’t know Dave Jones.
His tale begins at Staples High, where he played football before graduating in 1971. It continues on the University of Idaho football field, with summers lifeguarding at Compo Beach. It includes marriage (and divorce) with his high school sweetheart; moves on to a long career in ad sales with NBC, then veers off to remarriage, and raising twin sons.
In 2010 — in the midst of a very successful career at WJAR-TV in Providence — Jones saw a doctor for lower back pain.
The diagnosis: stage 4 colon, liver and gallbladder cancer.
Then came spots on his brain. And lymph node issues. Jones was dying.
He underwent surgery, and 18 months of chemotherapy. Last year, he crossed the magic 5-year survival window.
Dave Jones (Photo/M. Kiely)
An event like that does something to a person. Jones left the TV station, took a huge pay cut, and worked as the major gifts officer for 100-bed South County Hospital in Wakefield, Rhode Island. He helped build a $6.5 million community cancer center there. “Neighbors taking care of neighbors,” he explains.
Then he lost his job. “That’s healthcare,” Jones says simply.
He retired. “I had a great life,” he says. “I was healthy, living on the ocean. But how much SportsCenter can you watch?”
A friend owned Capital Wealth Management. Jones suggested the firm start a foundation, to help people donate money in personal, non-traditional ways: building a roof for an animal shelter, say, or providing computers to autistic kids.
“They’re micro-grants that previously fell through the cracks,” Jones says. “But nobody gave us a shot. You can’t put a private foundation next to a wealth management firm. It looks nefarious, like you’re hiding money. The SEC has lots of questions.”
But he did it. Jones is now president and CEO of the Capital Wealth Foundation. One of his key board members is former Staples classmate Mike Perlis — now president and executive chairman of Forbes Media.
The foundation gives out 100% of its funds — “well into 6 figures” already, Jones says.
His most recent project is one of his favorites. Growing up in Westport, he knew Stew Leonard Jr. Like Jones, Leonard has achieved quite a bit of success.
Like Jones too, he’s known tough times. In 1989 Leonard’s 21-month-old son, Stew III, drowned. The Stew Leonard III Children’s Charity now promotes water safety and awareness.
Jones’ son Jack follows in his footsteps: He’s a lifeguard. Unlike relatively tame Compo though, he works on the Narragansett surf. Jack often sees city kids rush into the waves. They can’t swim, and get caught in the very strong undertow.
Later this month, Jones and Leonard will meet to plan the Capital Wealth Foundation’s next project: providing swim lessons for inner-city kids.
Jones is going all in. He’s asking every former Compo lifeguard he knows for contributions. With the help of ex-guards Will Luedke and Mary Hughes, and Ann Becker Moore — who hosts an annual lifeguard reunion in Westport — he’s got a great list to start with.
But Jones wants to reach even more. If you ever lifeguarded in Westport, and want to help teach kids how to swim, email David@CapitalWealthInc.com. Or call 401-885-1060, ext. 115.
Of course, you don’t have to be a former lifeguard to help. You just need some connection to Jones, Compo, Westport, Stew Leonard, cancer or kids.
And that includes us all.