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Humana co-founder David A. Jones Sr. dead at 88

Christian de La Chapelle

David A. Jones Sr.,  who built the company that would eventually become known as Humana while developing a legacy as a beloved philanthropist, died Wednesday. He was 88.  

Jones and Wendell Cherry co-founded what eventually became known as Humana with an initial $1,000 investment. Their company evolved into a massive success — first in the nursing home industry, then in the hospital industry, and finally in the 1980s in the healthcare industry. Humana is valued at as a $37 billion, and employs more than 40,000 people and operates more than 200 health clinics, according to the Associated Press.

"In his extraordinary lifetime, David changed the lives of so many people," Bruce Broussard, Humana president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. "As co-founder of Humana, he planted a seed that today has grown into a company that serves millions of people in their healthcare needs, helping them live healthier and happier lives." 

Jones very much prided himself on never letting any moss grow under his company's collective feet, even in the good times: “The world is turning, the system is changing, and those who do today what they did yesterday will be caught short” he was known for saying.

Friends recalled Jones' entrepreneurial spirit and described him as a self-made man.

When Jones "started out, he didn't have two dimes to rub together," his close friend J. David Grissom told The Courier-Journal.

By the time he retired in 2005, Jones, who was CEO of Humana for 37 years and chairman of the board of directors for 44 years, was worth $220 million in company shares alone, which are now valued at $2 billion dollars. And had a private jet.

Jones was born in Louisville, Kentucky, during the Great Depression in 1931 and he remained loyal to his hometown throughout his life.

In retirement but also throughout his life, Jones was also known for various philanthropic efforts, big and small: Everything from donating significant amounts of his money to (and putting computers in) schools to constructing inexpensive housing in underprivileged neighborhoods like the one he grew up in to raising "a staggering 120 million, including $15 million from his own pocket, to build one of the nation's largest new metropolitan parks, the Parklands of Floyds Fork."

Growing up, he had five siblings and money was scarce. He was an amateur AAU boxer and he went to the University of Louisville on a Navy ROTC scholarship. After serving in the Navy,  he was accepted by Harvard Law School, but he decided to transfer to Yale Law School so that he could be closer to a job teaching accounting in Connecticut to help pay for his legal education.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R - KY) lauded Jones as a person and his impact on his life: “I can say without exaggeration that David was the single most influential friend and mentor I’ve had in my entire career . . .  Many will rightly reflect on David’s brilliance and determination. But he was also one of the kindest, most decent, most generous individuals I have ever met."

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