Anna Miles Jones never seemed ready to leave school. Whether it was the final bell, a debilitating illness, or retirement, she skipped over obstacles that tried to keep her from her work.
During the year she served as head of Belmont Day School in the late 1990s, her husband had to walk into her office at 6 p.m. every evening and ask her to come home. If he had not, she might have stayed half the night, said David Downing, who taught at two schools Ms. Jones led.
Throughout her well- traveled early life and long career, she carved graceful paths through whatever misfortune she encountered, never letting her own concerns supersede the needs of her family or the schools she led.
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer while serving as headmaster of Green Acres School in Rockville, Md., she continued to carry out her duties from her hospital bed, said her son Barney of San Francisco.
Ms. Jones, who also had served as headmaster of Charles River School in Dover for 15 years, died of complications of kidney failure March 22 in North Branford, Conn., where she lived with her husband, Ellis.
She was 84.
Colleagues called Ms. Jones the “velvet hammer’’ in recognition of her gentle but potent strength of character, said Lenesa Leana, her successor as head of Belmont Day School.
“She was an amazing person, and she took on some really tough positions when she was older, and she wasn’t afraid to do that,’’ said Desi Doulos-Ayers, administrative coordinator at Charles River School. “When you walked into her school, the energy of the kids was palpable.’’
After her death, her husband, who is known as Ollie, was inundated with letters from colleagues and admirers who credited Ms. Jones as a driving inspiration.
“She was more remarkable in her professional life than I ever knew,’’ he said.
Ms. Jones also had served as head of Dutchess Day School in Millbrook, N.Y., and the Willow Hill School in Sudbury.
She formerly was a board member of Belmont Day School, Willow Hill School, The Cambridge School of Weston, and Westtown School in Pennsylvania.
In addition, she had been president of the Association of Independent Schools in New England and chaired the elementary schools committee of the National Association of Independent Schools.
Her legacy runs deepest at Charles River School, which she led from the late 1970s to the early ’90s and where colleagues praised her open mind and commitment to leadership through cooperation.
“She was strongly committed to consensus,’’ said Downing, who was a teacher at Charles River School and Belmont Day School under her leadership. “She wasn’t trying to make herself look good. She just wanted to make the school look good.’’
Ms. Jones held regular one-on-one meetings with every teacher and always was prepared with a parable from her own life to shed light on problems others faced, Downing said.
“You always felt that you got a lot after coming out of a meeting with her,’’ he said. “She always had something wise to say.’’
Born in Palo Alto, Calif., into the Quaker household of Walter R. Miles and Catharine Cox Miles, who were both professors at Stanford University, Ms. Jones grew up in a family dedicated to hard work and education. When she was 3, the family moved to New Haven, where her parents taught at Yale University.
As a senior at Westtown School, Ms. Jones was invited to a Sunday tea party at the house of a Yale headmaster. The party, which brought together young men from what then was an all-male university and the daughters of Yale staff, was where she met Ellis O. Jones, then a Yale freshman.
Ms. Jones graduated with a degree in education from Smith College in Northampton in 1949.
She and Ellis married that year, and proceeded to live in a tent in Quebec while working at a summer camp for boys near Lake Champlain, he said.
They then took jobs at the Friends Academy in Locust Valley, N.Y., where they worked for room and board for four years.
Her husband joined the US State Department in 1955, and the couple, along with their two young sons, moved to Istanbul, where he was a vice consul.
For the next decade, they migrated through a series of diplomatic posts in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and what is now Yemen.
Ms. Jones performed the duties of a diplomat’s wife with aplomb, hosting parties, charming locals, and packing up the home and children again and again as the family kept moving to new cities and new countries, her family said.
Ms. Jones was able to “make the difficulties of life positive, rather than negative,’’ her husband said. “She always made a story out of these very difficult situations.’’
The family was in Istanbul when Ms. Jones was pregnant with her third child. As she prepared to give birth in a Turkish hospital, construction workers barged into her maternity suite and began climbing through her window to fix a light, her husband recalled.
They continued using her window as thoroughfare, even while she was recovering from childbirth.
The story became one of her favorites to tell.
When the family returned to the United States, her career began to dictate their direction.
“She followed my Dad throughout his diplomatic career, and then they kind of switched roles,’’ Barney said. While trading the roles of mother and diplomatic wife to that of administrator, he said, “she had to learn how to be the person of authority.’’
While her husband was teaching at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, Ms. Jones was offered a job as an administrator at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.
She took the job and quickly excelled. In 1973, she took her first job as head of school at Green Acres School. For the next three decades, Ms. Jones led independent schools in the Northeast that had gone through difficult times.
“Anna was a master at finding those small changes that can make large differences,’’ Leana said. “In every decision that Anna made, the story was, ‘How is this good for the children?’ ’’
In addition to her husband and son Barney, Ms. Jones leaves three other sons, E. Oliver of Newburyport, Charles of New York City, and Walter of Marlborough, Conn.; and eight grandchildren.
After Ms. Jones retired from Charles River School, colleagues put up a portrait in her honor that carries the inscription: “In recognition of her faith in the power of every individual to learn, to change, to grow.’’