For some 40 summers, Purcell Jones started his mornings by driving a golf cart through the Camp Morehead grounds calling out, “Wake up! Wake up! Wake up, you sleepy head! Get up! Get up! Get up out of that bed!”
The ritual, with its reference to the 1920s hit song about a “red, red robin,” became so beloved to certain campers that they used the same wakeup for their own children.
As owner and director of Camp Morehead by the Sea, a sleep-away summer camp on the shores of Bogue Sound off Highway 24, Jones inspired countless interests, whether they were knuckleball, archery (torture for the counselors), or an appreciation for the waterfowl with whom they shared their summer home. But his legacy goes beyond arts and crafts, tennis and learning how to canoe.
Generations of loved ones say Jones, or Cap’n Purcell, as he was known, instilled values, built character, and taught them the skills they would need to make the most of the rest of their lives. Camp Morehead alumni include congressmen, Division I college coaches and local leaders throughout the state.
“The two summers that I spent as a counselor at Camp Morehead would provide the springboard to any success that I have had as a college athlete, as a college coach of two nationally ranked basketball programs, and as director of athletics at three highly successful Division I athletic programs,” Terry Holland, retired ECU athletic director and University of Virginia basketball coach, said at Jones’ funeral.
Jones, 93, died last month from complications following a fall. Though the camp closed in 1995, he remained engaged with his community, and nature, throughout his life.
Last autumn marked the 53rd consecutive year Jones took a month-long hunting trip to Canada, a trip that had come to consist more of visiting old friends and bearing gifts than of beating personal records. Still, the ducks he shot down were saved for a banquet benefiting the local chapter of the nonprofit Ducks Unlimited he’d founded in Carteret County.
Jones was born in Wagram in Scotland County. He attended Clinton High School and was a top athlete. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he returned home, married his teenage sweetheart, Helen, and went to UNC-Chapel Hill.
He worked as a counselor at Camp Morehead in the 1940s and became assistant director in 1957. Jones and his wife purchased the camp from the original owner, Pat Crawford, in 1959, aspiring to preserve the spirit and intent of the camp founded in 1938. But they did more than that.
“We wouldn’t trade that experience for anything,” said Ed Aycock, former camper and counselor and longtime friend, speaking for the myriad Camp Morehead alumni with whom he has kept in touch since the 1950s. “They will tell you that those were the happiest days of their lives.”
Jones, with a wit, candor and kindness unmatched by many, managed the perfect balance between the fun and whimsy needed to make the children want to come back each summer, and the accountability and sense of duty the counselors needed to take their responsibility seriously.
In the 1990s it became clear Purcell and Helen Jones could not keep the camp going forever. They developed the land into a subdivision called Village of Camp Morehead. The camp’s generations of alumni could not fault them for bringing an era to an end.
“Camp Morehead was Cap’n Purcell,” Aycock said.
In addition to his decades running Camp Morehead, Jones also devoted his life to preserving the waterfowling heritage of Eastern North Carolina. He founded the Carteret County chapter of Ducks Unlimited, and was among the founding board members of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center in 1992.
He was known for donating thousands of dollars worth of antiques for museum fundraisers, and then buying it all back himself, said Karen Amspacher, museum director.
“The word ‘giving’ has a whole different meaning with him,” she said.
His grandson, Preston Davis, saw this in action on their many hunting excursions. Once, while hiking through Argentina, they ran into a family living in a shack. It was winter, and Jones simply removed his coat and handed it to someone in greater need.
“He literally gave someone the shirt off of his back,” Davis said.
Through all his interests, loved ones say it was clear that his priority was the relationships built along the way.
“When you were with him he made you feel like the most important person on the planet,” Amspacher said. “Over and over he said, ‘I’ve had a good life.’”
Born June 4, 1922, in Wagram.
Family: Marries Helen Jones in 1943, and they have two children: son John Purcell and daughter Helen Davis. They have two grandchildren (granddaughter Ashley Davis Gurthie is deceased), and one great-grandchild. He is widowed in 2010.
Military: Joins the U.S. Navy, serving in the Seabees from 1943 to 1945 in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Theater.
Education: Graduates from Clinton High School before heading to UNC-Chapel Hill, earning an undergraduate degree in 1950, a master’s degree in physical education in 1955.
Career: Teaches physical education and coaches sports at Clinton High School, purchasing Camp Morehead By the Sea in 1959. The camp closes in 1995 and is developed into the subdivision Village of Camp Morehead.
Dies: June 24, in Morehead City.