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Louisville Remembers Humana Co-Founder David Jones, Sr.

Betty and David Jones - 1
Courtesy Humana

Humana co-founder David Jones Sr. died at the age of 88 on Wednesday.

Jones founded the company in 1961 as a nursing home company. He was CEO of Humana for 37 years and served as board chairman for 44 years, before retiring in 2005.

But before his business success, Jones grew up in the Parkland neighborhood in west Louisville. Former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said Jones would talk about his humble upbringing.

“He used to talk about how the library there in Parkland was the window to the world for him,” Abramson said.

Jones studied at the University of Louisville through a Navy ROTC scholarship, and then went on to found a nursing home company that set the groundwork for Humana, which was initially in the hospital business.

Jones later became a Louisville powerhouse – Humana eventually got into the insurance business, and is now a top insurer nationwide and a Fortune 500 Company. And throughout his time at the helm — nearly four decades as CEO — Jones kept the company in Louisville, along with the jobs and economic investment.

Former Jewish Hospital CEO David Laird counts Jones as a mentor, and worked under his leadership in the 70s, 80s and early 90s when Humana was a hospital company.

“He would challenge us and say, you know, we started out as a nursing home business. And that was a good idea to start,” Laird said. "But then it was, it was a much better decision to change and go into hospitals after that. And now we're getting ready to go into the insurance business. And down the road, we're gonna have to make another decision about what we're going to be. And so we need to be thinking about that.”

Jones was the CEO at Humana through that organizational transition and retired in 2005. In his later years, he remained active in the community, giving millions to causes like the Ohio River Bridges Project, the Louisville Zoo and Waterfront Park. Jones was also instrumental in forming the Parklands of Floyds Fork in eastern Jefferson County, both as a donor and a fundraiser.

Abramson said he remembers Jones the most as a model citizen.

“There are a lot of strong people in this community, there are a lot of wealthy in this community,” Abramson said. “But they don't give back like David Jones gave back. And that was really what made him so special.”

Jones also had his share of controversy. A 1995 Washington Post story cited sources who likened the company’s strategy in Louisville to that of a coal-mining company town. He was also criticized for pushing and defending for-profit health care entities. And Congress summoned Jones to Washington in the early 1990s to testify on how Humana hospitals had jacked up the price of some medical supplies.

But there are many who counted Jones as a friend, mentor and mover and shaker. Virginia Judd is one of those people, and the former executive director of the Humana Foundation.

“He would always say that a successful enterprise and leader creates the conditions that allow people to do their best work,” Judd said. “I believe that's what he did.”

Jones spent 16 years working to rehabilitate Romania’s healthcare system, at the behest of President George H.W. Bush. And C.E. and S Foundation, his family foundation, has approved more than $93 million in grant awards (including initial funding to Louisville Public Media to help establish the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting).

Judd was also long-time friends with Jones’ wife, Betty, who died in August.

“David and Betty brightened our world, and inspired us to do what we can for others, and that is their legacy, for which we will all be forever grateful,” Judd said.

Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said Jones’ death was a sad day for him and the company.

“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,” Broussard said in a statement. “In addition to his impact at Humana, he inspired and made a significant difference in the lives of many others, in and outside the Louisville community, and around the world.”

In a statement, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called Jones “a giant of our city.”

“From his historic entrepreneurial success to his extensive philanthropy, along with his beloved wife, Betty, he leaves so many well-known city-shaping accomplishments,” Fischer wrote. “But it was the countless people he touched with individual acts of kindness that the public will never know about that meant the most to him. Through all of that, his unwavering love for his family was an inspiration for all to behold. David Jones’ commitment to making the world a better place will forever leave a profound impact on our city.”

Jones was also eulogized on the Senate floor Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he considered Jones a close friend and mentor.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Virginia Judd is the executive director of the Humana Foundation. She is the former executive director.

This post has been updated.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.