Jonny was born the fourth child in a family of 7 children to Thomas and Puggie Jordan on April 17,1953. He grew up in a house on Eleanor that was renowned to all as a major venue of social entertainment. The kids were beautiful and the parents were fun. Even the maid was funny. All of Jonny’s friends loved hanging out there.
Attending Isadore Newman School was pure pleasure to him. Jonny loved being in school. He was popular. He was an athlete. Being part of the basketball team was a dream come true. He was the sixth man and he relished his role coming off the bench to spell one of the starters who would go on to play in college. Clements, Inman, Garon, the Lapayeres. Their team would win the state title, and the experience cemented Jonny’s lifelong love of basketball. In his last few months during a visit to my house in Colorado, at age 65, he purchased a new net for my basketball goal so he and Michael could play their unending game of HORSE. He could still beat the youngster.
After Newman, he briefly attempted classes at Tulane, but was derailed by too much fun with the greek DeKEs, so he came up to LSU in the second semester of his freshman year.
I remember the first time that I laid eyes on him as he opened the door to Graham Hall, 2nd floor. You know how it is when you immediately recognize someone you should be friends with. His first words to me as I was headed out, “Do you know where Clay Craighead’s room is?” I turned around to bring him to the room across from mine, and in that room a lifetime bond among us was initiated.
The following year, Jonny and I helped set the record for the largest “streak” in the nation, running naked through the campus to the girls’ dorms. The next day the two of us appeared in a close up shot on the cover of the Daily Reveille. Today we would probably have to register as sex offenders for this stunt.
Jon really loved college. He was in no hurry and attended for 6 years before graduating. We were roommates my final year there, but he would also live with Bill Brooks and Liz Scoggin, Clay, Cedric Martin, and finally Bruce Oreck. While living with us, Jonny got his first real Job selling inflatable furniture, so of course our apartment was filled with this stuff. We would sit around at night on an inflated couch, chairs, and side tables, and when we awoke in the morning the apartment was littered with deflated red plastic furniture. This job did not last too long.
With his Tom Sawyer, All American good looks and attitude, he dated the best looking women on campus, but would never divulge any information to us roomies who clamored for the salacious details.
One day after he had graduated, we took a mid-week holiday to go tubing on the Tchefuncte River, just the two of us. We became intoxicated early on, and were enjoying the sunshine and mild current on the river laying back with our butts sticking through the doughnut hole in the tubes. Jonny took off all of his clothes to get that “all over tan”, and we both drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, I was alone. In a mild panic, I searched and found Jonny about two hundred feet down river. There he was naked, unconscious in his tube beached on the shore. A small boy was approaching him with a long stick. He prodded what I am sure appeared to the boy to be a dead man with the stick, waking a startled JonBoy who immediately discovered that our clothes, that he was in charge of, were gone. All that remained were the short pants that I had on.
When we reached the take-out, Jonny was completely naked and full of mud, and there was only one pair of pants between us. Undaunted, he searched the trash and found a used green trash bag. Pulling the corners of the bag off for leg holes, he stepped into this dirty green “diaper” and hid in the bushes while I flagged down a pickup truck to bring us back to his car. Opening the truck door, I thanked the driver for stopping and asked if he minded taking one more passenger. Imagine his surprise when Jonny pops out from the bushes dressed only in a green trash bag after a day on the river. The driver made the guy wearing the green trash bag ride in the truck bed all the way back.
Through a connection from his sister Evelyn, Jon began working for Tom Hayden in his mill shop. Theirs was a close friendship and Jon began to learn about home renovation.
After a while, Bruce Oreck told him that he could be more than a mill shop worker, and his options were limited working in Tom’s shop, so he went to work for Service Engineering managing the service department.
Simultaneously, he worked on cars as a hobby—MG’s and Austin’s mostly. For my med school graduation in 1978—he gave me an early 70’s Toyota Corolla so I could get to work. The car literally looked like he pulled it from a junk yard. A tree had fallen on the roof right through the length of the car, and the indention was so deep that the driver could not see the passenger, but he had restored the engine, and I drove that car to work every day for a couple of years. Like JonBoy, it never failed me even once.
After about a year at Service Engineering, Bruce Oreck told him that he could be more and wasn’t getting anywhere working for Service Engineering, so Jon, recruited a crew and utilizing the skills he learned while at Tom’s, started working for Bruce doing some renovating. His first big renovation was on Meg and Fred’s house on Richmond Place.
In June of 1982 Jonny married Becky Jardine whom he had met at a country and western costume party thrown by Chloe and Brandy. He wore a fringed cowboy jacket and was captivated by Becky’s creative nature and “can do” spirit. They moved into a house on Upperline that year and Jonny started renovating that place when he came home from renovating everyone else’s home– everyone knew this might take a while. There, he settled into marriage and Becky had Ian in 1986 and Michael in 1989. They stayed on Upperline until 1993 when he finally finished the renovation in order to sell the house after living in it half renovate for ten years. They transferred the brood to the present Audubon Street address.
On a handshake in 1987, Jonny did a quarter million dollar renovation on our State Street home. I wanted a first class bar in the open cabana beside the pool, so he and I embarked on a mission. We went for drinks to 20 of New Orleans’ best bars and took notes about what made the actual main bar special. Jonny put all of these ideas together and created a masterpiece of redwood, mahogany, mirrors and brass. We had a party for the great unveiling. When he pulled back the curtain from the mirrors behind the bar, there was a life sized portait of me standing sideways on a Destin beach in just a speedo, skinny arms in a muscle man pose wearing nerd glasses with a very obvious silhouette of my package down below. It came from a picture of Jon, Clay and I clowning on the beach, but he had cut them out and blown the picture to life size, forever embedded in a glass case in the center between mirrors behind the bar.
For Mardi Gras, Jonny almost always dressed as a priest, blessing everyone who would listen, and several times completely fooled embarrassed strangers who would apologize for intercepting beads thrown to the “father”.
As a general contractor and craftsman, he did huge home renovations Uptown, on Bellaire, off of Longview, on the North Shore, and finally Palmer St. Then Bruce Oreck told him that he could be more and wasn’t getting anywhere, so he began renovating apartment complexes for Bruce—Prytania, Carrolton, the Alameda, and the Evangeline.
Then Bruce Oreck told him that he could be more and that he wasn’t getting anywhere just doing these renovations, so he began managing the apartments for Bruce—over 180 of them.
Then Bruce told him he was divesting his holdings in New Orleans, so pretty soon, Jonny would not be getting anywhere working for him, and he could be more, so he got a real estate license, converted all of Bruce’s apartments to condo’s and began selling them. Once all were sold, he would be the manager for the condo associations.
Starting around 2010, for at least one long weekend every month during ski seasons, he would come up to Colorado to visit with Corinne and ski with me. We looked forward to him bursting into our house on a Wednesday or Thursday night when he would bellow out, “Lucy, I’m home!” Being the athlete that he was, he learned to ski and became an expert after only two years. Breckinridge, Vail, Keystone, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Steamboat, we skied them all. Perhaps the most memorable time was when Jonny arranged for us to have “Early Tracks” skiing—Michael, Graham, Jonny and I had Steamboat absolutely to ourselves before the lifts officially opened. The four of us moved like wild mustangs across the virgin snow. It was exhilarating and it was the start of the treasured relationship I now have with Michael.
One year Uncle Jonny and I trekked miles through the snow to a backcountry cabin with my son and nephew. Always the competitor, Jonny set forth multiple skills tests for us, which he inevitably won. He chopped wood for the pot belly stove in the sauna. When the temp reached 120 degrees, he would run outside naked and jump in the snow to make snow angels, once startling a young mother and her eight year old son as they came to check out the sauna in the freezing cold.
During summers, he came to Colorado for backpacking and fishing. Then Jonny developed an interest in motor cycles. This guy was as brave as they come. He learned how to motorcycle on a Vespa scooter to get his license, then the next day flew to Denver and rented a Harley Fat Boy. First time on a real motorcycle, he took it 40 miles down I-25 through heavy traffic to my house. Next day we attempted to motorcycle to South Dakota, but the huge trucking rigs were blowing us off of the highway, so we took the backroads. I will never forget the two of us cruising on our Harleys all alone on a single lane road in wide open Wyoming when several stallions ran up beside us, and raced us at full speed.
He loved going out on Peter Trapolin’s boat so he eventually got his own boat and that became his favorite thing to do. We explored the south Louisiana swamps and waterways catching reds and trout. The sun baked us and he loved his new role as captain and boat mechanic.
He became an even better athlete as he became older. Running, Biking, Swimming. He joined uptown groups to train with. He was competing in triathlons all over the country. Alcatraz was built out in San Francisco bay and was said to be inescapable partly due to the fact that it would be nearly impossible for a prisoner to swim to shore through the currents and distance, yet he did exactly that. He became a fixture at the Riley Center, concentrating on his perfect swimming form, and he told me he was never once distracted by the Tulane Women’s swimming team that shared the pool with him.
I went to see him race in a New York triathlon. Jonny had inspired my daughter, Brittany, to become a triathlete when she lived for a month with the Jordans. In the middle of the race, he stopped to poop in a Port-a-Potty, and he still won his division.
Jonny first complained about his gastrointestinal problems to me while we were on a ski lift in Keystone in the winter of 2017. I did not think too seriously about it and made light of his complaints. He was going to see his internist about it anyway. Two months later, I was standing in my hotel room in Hamburg, Germany when Clay called to tell me that my best friend had stage 4 cancer of the pancreas. The worst presentation of the worst disease. I remember it like I remember where I was when Kennedy was shot, when John Lennon died, or when the Twin Towers were struck. I was dumbfounded. I must be dreaming. It could not be true. He was the healthiest person I knew. He had never been sick and at 64 was not on any medications. He was expected to live 3-6 months.
JonBoy was the best of us. Everybody liked him. He had no enemies, ever. He was an all American great looking kid and an etched physical specimen as an adult. He had an easy manner and carefree attitude. Yet as he grew older, he became diligent in his work and demanded perfection by those working for him. Everyone who worked for Jon loved working for him. It was easy to tell. He was patient, but exacting. He took chances on underdogs, hiring, educating and encouraging them. He forgave human errors, stuck with the guys who made them, and took disappointment in stride. Guys like Adrian and Jonelle became family more than employees, and his loyalty to guys like this gave them confidence and a chance for success which they then ran with.
He was a great friend, you could not ask for better. Jon was the glue that held our group of buddies together. Whenever I would come to town, he organized steak night. We would try out the best of New Orleans’ steak houses, a different one each time until we finally settled on our favorite—Crescent City Steak House on Broad. These were some of the best evenings a guy could hope for—great food, great friends, and big laughs.
Diligent and trustworthy in his work, no matter what stage of life he was in, Jon was a builder, a giver, a leader, a mover and a shaker. At home with a room full of doctors and lawyers, he was just as comfortable with construction workers and mechanics. He could not walk around Audubon Park without a line of people trying to talk to him. Yet other than the time spent in school in Baton Rouge, he lived his entire life within the same mile.
He was not a wealthy man, but his generosity and bare honesty was well known, and his father’s family looked to Jon for support and guidance. Jon’s own family adored him. He and Becky were great companions, and the sons that they produced are fine men who carry on the ideals of selflessness, perseverance, and humor that their parents instilled in them.
Finally, when I was with Jonny, I felt magic. When we saw each other, the day was suddenly better. Something cool or funny was certain to happen. Last year we decided to attend the LSU/Auburn game—one last visit to the campus where we first met. LSU had a promising team and the tickets had to be purchased early at great expense for such an important game. Then LSU lost half of its games including one to Troy, wherever that is. People were dumping their tickets in anticipation of a bad afternoon. Sure enough, LSU was down 23-0 at halftime. But the Tigers would miraculously come back to beat that Auburn team that suffered only two losses that season. I kind of felt like the Tigers did that for Jonny. His last day on the campus where he spent 6 years would be exhilarating for us.
Just over one year from the time of Jonny’s diagnosis, he and I determined to see the Pelicans play against the Golden State Warriors in the Conference semi-Finals. After losing the first two games to a heavily favored Golden State Team, it seemed ridiculous to spend the bucks to get great seats for the third game in New Orleans. Yet when you go with Jonny, magic can happen, and indeed it did. The Pels won their only playoff game out of 5 against the team from Oakland. Somehow, we knew they would.
Perhaps the most thrilling site of all was watching Jonny swim out into the open waters of the Sea of Cortez this past summer. As I stood on the overlooking cliffs above, I followed the solitary figure of a man pushing his way against the broad expanse of water and was stuck by amazement of how far he went before reversing his path.
He was always so brave, and that courage and the grace with which he would face the unrelenting torments of the cancer that would eventually take him, will forever be an inspiration to those who witnessed it. I have known way too many cancer victims during my life as a surgeon, but I have never seen anyone face that adversity like JonBoy did. That foe defeated him finally, but he did not go without a valiant and inspirational fight. For us to ask that death never comes is just futile, but it is not futile to ask that when that death comes, one little part of the world is better because that person had been there. Jonny, you are that man.