Death of a Dragon Slayer

I was nervous as hell on the flight from New York to Denver.

It was the spring of 1995, and I was on my way to interview a tough-as-nails former Navy underwater bomb-disposal expert turned cable operator, one of my first page-one assignments on an important new beat as a 29-yearold reporter at The Wall Street Journal.

The more I had heard about this guy, the harder it was to pigeonhole him, and I wanted desperately to impress the editors back in New York.

I was expecting a tough-talking, ex-military, bear of a man itching to regale me with war stories, or worse, bloviate about the dominance of his cable company, Jones Intercable, the seventh-largest in the U.S.

The man I met blew away every single expectation I had as I stepped into his cavernous office overlooking the Rockies.

Dapper and polite, Glenn Jones ushered me to a dining table in his office, and instead immediately started quizzing me about life in New York City. This guy wasn’t a “tough guy” at all; if anything, he was downright disarming — and as I would soon learn, exceedingly eccentric. Indeed, he was a wiry-thin walking set of contradictions.

He was a coal-miner’s son who worked in the steel mills of Pennsylvania and barely made it to college. He was now a published poet with an office of bookcases groaning with great works of literature. He played bagpipes to call employees to company meetings.

He kept a crackling fire in his office, even in spring, because, he said, he’d never truly been warm since his deep-water diving days in the Navy. He sat down at a piano and played cocktail-lounge riffs, though he happily conceded he couldn’t read a note of music.

The highlight of my office tour that day was an all-black “war room,” which he personally designed detail-for-detail after a scene from the science-fiction novel Dune, where he literally monitored Jones’s operations.

One of Glenn’s quirkiest traits was his utter obsessions with dragons, which caught his attention during his days as a young naval officer in Japan.

Jana Henthorn, then a Jones general manager, described in the story the ceremony where she was awarded the company’s highest honor — the Jones International Medallion of the Alliance, emblazoned with a dragon: “He puts a medallion around your neck and he kisses you on both cheeks and he looks you in the eye. Then he says, ‘You are a dragon slayer. The dragons in the caves tremble at your approach.’ It was the high point of my career. The whole time they were playing bagpipes.”

During that lunch, he laughed often and avoided talk about the Navy because it was “boring.” Instead, he wanted to talk about the things that stoked his bottomless curiosity about the world around him: his plans for Mind Extension University, man’s desire to learn, the lessons of history, battle theory — and the future of cable TV.

Glenn and I remained fast friends for the next 20 years. It’s easy to look back now and see my life — and career — are richer having known him, and it pains me greatly to know he’s not here.