Chip Jones couldn’t decide whether to allow his heart or mind to guide his career path. Logic steered him toward the practical agriculture and economics, while his love of history pulled him in a different direction. Luckily, thanks to his wit and experience, Jones doesn’t have to choose anymore. He’s living his dream of working for a “historic gem” in the Westmoreland County as Stratford Hall’s farm manager.
While the main mission of Stratford Hall is the education of visitors and the preservation of the home and lands of Robert E. Lee and family, the 1900 acres are full of forests, trails, cliffs and working farmlands. Much of Jones’ time is spent working with the livestock that live on the grounds — mainly cattle, goats, sheep, and horses. He also is responsible for many other tasks like mending fences, planting crops (corn and tobacco among them) and running the fully functional grist mill, which grinds grain into meal for use on the grounds.
“I am sort of a jack of all trades around here,” laughs Jones. And while he does not spend much time behind a desk, much of what goes into his day-to-day job at Stratford Hall he learned while a student at Rappahannock Community College.
“When I was back at RCC, I was an Upton Scholarship recipient. Part of the Upton Scholarship was leadership development,” says Jones.
“One of the projects I worked on was with the Northern Neck Soil and Water Conservation District. I did some water quality monitoring along the Cat Point Creek — which is one of the more undeveloped estuaries that we have on the Rappahannock River.
“So I worked with them and low and behold I am now an elected director from Westmoreland County on the Northern Neck Soil and Water Conservation District,” says Jones. “Something that I worked on as a student has come full circle to something that I am a board member on. That RCC connection carried over into my adult career after school.”
Jones graduated from Washington and Lee High School, and enrolled at RCC, graduating with his Associate of Arts and Sciences Transfer Degree in 1997. He then transferred to Virginia Tech, which is where he completed his collegiate career, graduating in 2000 with a degree in Agriculture and Applied Economics. After leaving Blacksburg, Jones tried his hand in real estate, retail and finance. Along the way he joined the National Guard and deployed twice to Iraq, once in 2004 and again in 2009.
After his second tour in the Middle East, Jones returned to the Northern Neck where he re-entered the workforce, back to working in finance. But when an opportunity to apprentice at Stratford Hall’s grist mill opened up, he jumped at the chance. He worked for the miller, who left for Mount Vernon, and eventually worked into the job of farm manager.
And while he admits that returning home to the Northern Neck may have cost him job opportunities along the way, he is very happy that he did.
“I could have gone other places but I feel like my place is here. This is a great place. It’s got that rural, down-home feel,” says Jones. “I’ve been to Richmond or Hampton Roads and you don’t get that there — you’re just one of many. Here people know you. And I like that sense of community and family that you get here.”
He likes it so much, that he took it upon himself to create the region’s official license plate, which he worked with State Senator Richard Stuart to make happen. You’ve probably seen Jones’ handiwork on many, many vehicles throughout the Northern Neck, and driven by folks outside of the area who wish they were here.
He reports that his job at Stratford Hall is an adventure, where each day is different from the last. Case in point was back in July 2013 when he helped with the excavation and transport of a 15 million-year-old whale skull from the cliffs at Stratford for the Calvert Marine Museum. Just another exciting day.
“I have picked up skill sets from each of [my jobs] that I have brought to my job here. It’s been a learning journey,” says Jones. “Everything should be. When you stop learning that is the moment you stop living.”
Love of learning has carried him through many different jobs started during his time at RCC, for which he is now an advocate.
“You can graduate from RCC and go to any of the state supported schools around. I aligned my coursework at RCC with what they would accept at Virginia Tech. If you feel that college is not for you and you want to enter the career workforce, they’ve got career programs there too,” says Jones.
“You’re not stuck in ‘I’ve got to do this whole four years of college to be successful;’ you’ve got multiple options. RCC is a good investment because of that.”
Jones hopes that you’ll come to Stratford Hall for a visit like the 50,000 guests who walk their trails or visit the manor house of his “historic gem” nestled in the Northern Neck.