Brennon Jones, a long-time journalist, UN peacekeeper and spokesperson in Southeast Asian conflict zones, and member of the board of directors of the Central Park Medical Unit, an all volunteer ambulance, passed away on February 2nd in the comfort of his home with loved ones at his side after a nearly five year battle with cancer.
Brennon graduated from Lake Forest College in 1968 with a degree in Art History and was chosen to participate in the first Whitney Museum of Art Independent Study Program. He was active in the civil rights movement throughout college, even traveling to Mississippi in the Spring of 1965 to help with voter registration.
Upon graduation, Brennon was confronted with a decision of what his role would be in the Vietnam War. While facing the draft, he filed as a conscientious objector, with one small twist. He wanted to serve his two years alternative service in the war zone of Vietnam – not in the United States. He was hired by Vietnam Christian Service, a humanitarian relief organization. Brennon quickly learned Vietnamese on his arrival in Saigon. Over the course of two years, he worked as an information officer, journalist, and photographer, filing articles on the refuge crisis and the damaging social, economic and physical effects of the war on the Vietnamese people. He also worked for a year as a social worker in Tra Bong, a remote, war torn district of Quang Ngai Province helping Vietnamese and Montagnards with life-threatening injuries get transport to the provincial hospital. As the Tra Bong district was surrounded by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers, an island unto itself, Brennon brokered with US helicopter pilots to get seriously injured patients to Quang City and the Provincial Hospital.
Brennon always said that his experience with the Vietnamese and Montagnard communities set the trajectory of his life and he often returned to Tra Bong to visit his lifelong friends.
On his return to New York in 1971, Brennon was hired by CBS News as a researcher/reporter specializing on Indochina affairs mainly for the then young “60 Minutes” program. A little more than a year later, he left CBS at the request of Peter Davis an Emmy Award producer/director to produce “Hearts and Minds”, a documentary film about the effect of the American-Vietnamese conflict on U.S. soldiers and the Vietnamese. The film won an Academy Award in 1974.
Afterwards, he worked in East Timor, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Thailand and elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia with the United Nations. He served as senior editor/director of the Office for South and Southeast Asia for the Integrated Regional Information Networks, the United Nations humanitarian news service.
Brennon was a driver and crew chief with the Central Park Medical Unit for over 20 years, and also served as a member of the board of directors. He helped train generations of EMT’s and paramedics, many of whom continued on to careers as physicians and other health professionals. Between his missions abroad, he would spend time with this all volunteer organization caring for those who need medical assistance in New York City’s Central Park.
He is survived by his brothers Ross and Timothy Jones, sister Eleanor Panasevich, many nieces and nephews, and partner Amara Techaratanachai.
A Memorial Service / Celebration of his Life will be held on Sunday, February 16th, at 11:00am at the Interchurch Center, located at 475 Riverside Drive in New York. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Central Park Medical Unit.