Mildred Jones, a native of Chase City in Southside Virginia, took to her adopted Richmond with a vengeance and never looked back. Nobody was a greater advocate of the possibilities -- and responsibilities of urban living. Her scope was never the broad, cosmic picture; for Millie (as everybody called her) there was plenty to attend to in one's own front yard.
When she and her husband, Judge Thomas O. Jones, had their son, she stitched up a colorful flag and hung it next to their front door on Park Avenue. This evolved into a cottage industry, Festival Flags, which led to a considerable flag empire. As her banners spread from city to suburb, they became one of Richmond's identifying, and most joyful, characteristics.
Jones was first and foremost an entrepreneur: She saw a niche and filled it. In 1983 she moved her operation into adjoining buildings at 322 W. Broad St. ("At the corner of Hortense and Broad," she'd say with a twinkle in her eye, knowing that the top floor of her building had, in the not-so-distant past, been the long-time lair of Hortense Blair, Richmond's most prominent madam.) As she peddled flags on the first floor, she and her husband restored the upper floors into luxury apartments in the late 1980s. They were pioneers in seeing the residential potential of the area. Today, there are hundreds of apartments on West Broad Street. "If any single person is responsible for the turnaround of our Empire Theatre neighborhood, Millie Jones may well be that person," wrote Bruce Miller, artistic director of Theater IV, in a tribute to his former business neighbor.
Jones also took great interest in her residential neighborhood, historic Monument Avenue. As tireless co-chair of a year-long centennial celebration in 1990, she spearheaded the U.S. Department of the Interior's Historic American Buildings Survey of the avenue, the first time the program (which has documented such landmarks as Mount Vernon and Monticello) had measured a street.
If Jones' sense of color and whimsy came through in her business and collection of crafts and sculpture, she could also be fierce. Woe be to anyone who scrawled graffiti on any surface within her sphere: She would find you. Why anyone would deface historic or personal property was beyond her. Police and the courts cracked down because of her.
Moxie it's a word we don't hear much, but Millie Jones had it. Her spirit lives on with every breeze that lifts the colorful flags that are a trademark of the city she worked so tirelessly to enhance.