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Lawyer, feminist Mary Gardiner Jones dies at 89

Mary Gardiner Jones - a prominent lawyer, consumer advocate and feminist pioneer, and one of the last direct descendants of Thomas Jones, the namesake of Jones Beach - died of natural causes on Dec. 23 in Washington, D.C. She was 89.

Jones grew up in Cold Spring Harbor and had written that her childhood on the Gold Coast had not been easy. "I was always uncomfortable with the privileged life we led and distressed over the falseness of my family's values," she recalled in a 2007 memoir, "Breaking Down Walls." "My most vivid memories of the family are their constant fights over property."

In addition to Thomas Jones, the privateer and Irish exile who remade himself as an aristocrat in late 17th century Long Island, Mary's other famous ancestor - also on her father Charles H. Jones' side - was Lion Gardiner, the 17th century soldier of fortune who established a manor on the East End island that bears his name.

But the relative whose lead Mary most wanted to follow was her aunt, "General" Rosalie Jones, the first woman to graduate from the Washington (D.C.) College of Law and a prominent suffragist in the early 1900s. She was dubbed "general" as she led marches of women demanding the right to vote.

During World War II, Mary Jones worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, and in 1945 entered Yale Law School - one of only two women in her class. "The law school had a deep commitment to using the intellect to making the world a better place," she wrote. "I came out . . . an idealist, and for good or ill have been that ever since."

Idealist or not, she was turned down for employment by 50 law firms. During a talk at the Cold Spring Harbor Library in September 2008, she dryly noted the reaction by the head of one white-shoe Manhattan firm: "He said: 'Miss Jones, if I suggested to my partners we hire you, they'd have a heart attack.' I couldn't argue with that."

Jones eventually found a job in the firm founded by her OSS boss, Gen. William "Wild Bill" Donovan. She later switched to the public sector, as an attorney in the New York office for the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Jones head of the Federal Trade Commission. She was selected for the post, she learned later, because Johnson said he wanted both a woman and someone with private-sector experience. " 'I come from a family of intelligent women,' " Jones recalled the president saying when they first met. " 'We undervalue the talents of women.' "

As Federal Trade commissioner, a position she held until 1973, Jones was instrumental in bringing about greater FTC activism on consumer issues.

After leaving the agency, she taught social responsibility and ethics at the University of Illinois schools of Law and Business before being named the first female senior executive at Western Union.

As an accomplished professional with an expertise on consumer issues, she was sought-after by many corporations and later sat on the boards of American Airlines, MCA, Alcon Pharmaceuticals and John Wiley Publishing.

Jones spent much of the last years of her life in volunteer positions in Washington. A particular passion was mental health. She was candid about the importance of psychoanalysis in her own life, particularly in dealing with some of the anger she felt toward her family and their elitist views. However, she noted, her analyst "helped me accept that I came from a long line of people who made important contributions that I could be proud of."

Survivors include her nephews John, David and Charles Watkins and Robert Crooker. Burial will be at noon Tuesday at St. John's Memorial Cemetery in Laurel Hollow.

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