TAMPA —The Rev. Arthur T. Jones dedicated his life to God and music, the two often intertwining. But after struggling with challenging health issues, the pastor and founder of Bible-Based Fellowship Church of Tampa died Saturday He was 65.
A lover of education, family and faith, his influence was widespread. His impact was felt not only in the church and Hillsborough County, but across the country and in Africa as well.
"He was a visionary leader, not only for his church, but also for our community," said Thomas Scott, a pastor and former Hillsborough County commissioner and Tampa City Council member. "A great leader and a champion in his own right. He accomplished so much in a short life span. This community will certainly miss his voice and miss a true champion for the cause of the community."
The Rev. Jones believed in a formula of education and entrepreneurship to help lift people into a position of being able to take care of their family and their community, friend Bob Morrison said.
On the day of his death, his ministry could be seen throughout Tampa. A three-day conference focusing on health care and using music in the church was taking place at Bible-Based Fellowship Church. Downtown, more than 200 meals were served to the homeless who stay at the Salvation Army.
"Those are the elements of that formula that were occurring right here in Tampa on the day of his transition," Morrison said. "That's a heck of a legacy, to be able to say, 'This is what I left on my last day of my journey home.' "
The Rev. Jones, who was raised by his grandmother, grew up singing in choirs and going to church. He recorded his first gospel album in 1974 with the Florida Mass Choir. The group would go on to record 13 more albums, compact discs and videos.
The East Tampa native graduated from Middleton High School and United Theological Seminary. He also received training at Harvard and Oxford universities. He worked as a marketing executive for 24 years until retiring from IBM Corp. in 1992 to found Bible-Based Fellowship Church.
He and a friend, the Rev. Earl B. Mason, bought 6 acres off Ehrlich Road where they built the church. What started as a Bible study out of his North Tampa home grew into a church with more than 5,000 members, and five congregations and two schools in Africa.
"The guy was just a perfectionist at his craft," friend and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Parnell Dickinson said. "He was one of the most dedicated people to his music and ministry that I've ever seen."
He taught his congregation the importance of bringing a Bible with them and immersing themselves in Scripture.
"His point was we're here together on Sunday, what were you doing Monday through Saturday?" Morrison said. "He wants you to constantly have with you as your companion that Bible, to be able to understand what a Christ-like existence should truly be like."
Though the Rev. Jones was dedicated to his work, sometimes working 12-hour days, his family was critical to him, Dickinson said. The two families would go on vacations and have dinners together, often cracking jokes and singing.
"For somebody to be able to do all that he did had to have been blessed by a tremendous family," Dickinson said. "His wife is an absolutely phenomenal lady. It takes a lot of biting your tongue to allow your husband to go off and do what he does."
The Rev. Jones helped bring the Gospel Music Workshop of America to Tampa for the first time in 1976. The group returned to Tampa in 2011 to honor him for his lifetime achievements in the gospel music industry.
The Rev. Jones and his choir were often the featured gospel music performers at the Florida Strawberry Festival. He was also a noted lecturer and teacher who wrote three books.
"He told the congregation once that all of the songs he had preformed or written had to have a biblical platform or he wouldn't sing them," Morrison said. "Otherwise he didn't think that was truly gospel music. He was consistent in what he did across the board."
The Rev. Jones traveled to the churches and schools in Africa often until he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, in the fall of 2010. After months of chemotherapy treatments and hospitalizations, he relied on a walker and was unable to stand at the pulpit.
Though he was hurting and going through dialysis, he'd still find a way to connect with others around him. One day at the hospital, another patient saw him reading a book. Their conversation spawned a three-day-a-week Bible study with other patients.
"When he knew he was sick, in the last couple years, his dedication for the ministry didn't change," Dickinson said. "The tireless dedication of this guy and his focus was just, it was unreal. The ministry will continue to soar even in his absence as a result of the people he has lined up to continue to move it forward."
The Rev. Jones is survived by his wife, Doris; two sons, Darren and Arthur T. Jones II.; two daughters, Natalie and Shonda; and a son-in-law, Chuck Wilson.
A viewing will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Bible-Based Fellowship Church with a service at 11 a.m. Friday. Both are open to the public.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.