Norval Bruce “Sandy” Jones passed away surrounded by loved ones on Sunday, March 5, 2023, at the age of 84.
Born in the hospital in Wallace, ID on July 17, 1938, he lived a truly incredible life. Raised in and around Kellogg, ID and Spokane, WA, he was an occasionally bawdy young lad, with plenty of hilarious stories to boot. He caught the attention of one particularly beautiful and diligent cross walk guard, Dorcas, and went ahead and married her a few years later. In his youth he began learning the great highland bagpipe, spurred on by his doting Scottish grandfather. His studies paid off, and he joined the United States Air Force to become a member of their Pipe Band, serving as an airman and musical ambassador.
Sandy and Dorcas moved to Washington, DC in 1958 to begin his career, which took him across the country and the world. Sandy’s experience led him to being invited to the Kennedy White House on multiple occasions, including being commissioned to write a new composition and perform for the United States welcome to the Irish Prime Minister Seán Lemass. It was Sandy’s and the USAF Pipe Band’s great relationship with President Kennedy that led to them being requested by First Lady Jackie Kennedy to play at President Kennedy’s funeral. This critical moment in American history cemented Sandy’s commitment to servant leadership and furthering the reputation of the great highland bagpipe.
Sandy was an incredible teacher. His role as the pipe major of multiple pipe bands positioned him as mentor to many. When Sandy finished his time in the Air Force in 1978, he joined the faculty at The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina. For 25 years he mentored many young musicians and cultivated an amazing pipe band program, leveraging his relationships overseas and taking The Citadel’s Regimental Pipe Band to the prestigious Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland. While in Charleston, he also wrote and published one of foremost tutor books for new bagpipe learners, “Beginning the Bagpipe.”
Part of Sandy’s role as a figurehead in the piping and drumming world saw him judging and leading Highland Games across the country, including as the President of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. This allowed Sandy to work with many Scottish musicians, teaching large numbers of students and coaching other bands. He recognized a need for a hub of learning for Scottish music and worked in partnership with his colleague John MacFadyen to open the North American Academy of Piping and Drumming in 1970. For over 50 years, the academy has engaged thousands of students, many of whom remain involved for decades. Shepherded by Sandy’s incredible leadership, his deep relationships with the some of the most talented pipers and drummers in the world, and his enthusiastic commitment to the academy’s amazing students, the NAAPD is the premier institution of its kind in the country.
After a 59-year career, Sandy traveled to Scotland in 2017 where he was presented with the Balvenie Medal, the highest honor in the community for lifetime services to piping. He was the first American-born piper to receive this prestigious award. It was especially meaningful that his family was able to be with him when he received this award. His wife has been by his side in all his endeavors and his children and grandchildren are following in his footsteps as pipers and musicians and are committed to furthering Scottish culture through excellent music education.
We are in awe when we consider Sandy’s amazing, six-decade long career, and how he has engaged with tens of thousands of pipers and drummers across the world. He showed up for everyone in an authentic, present way, had a knack for ensuring you felt valued and heard, and inspired us all to try and live up to the magnificent standard he set. He will be remembered for his stellar and innovative musicianship by his former bandmates, for his quick wit and indelible support by his cadets, for his softness and integrity by his family, and for his kindness and humor by every single person who crossed his path. Our Grandfather of American Piping, he was beloved.
He is predeceased by his mother and father, Dorothy and Norval, his brother John, and his son John Cameron. He is survived by Dorcas, his cherished wife of 65 years, daughters Colleen (John), Cathleen (Mike), and Keri (Matt), along with 8 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
We look forward to holding a memorial service this Summer and anticipate the huge community he has helped to build joining us in this great celebration.
The family, colleagues and loved ones will be setting up a memorial fund to further Sandy’s legacy in the coming days. In the meantime, any tax-deductible donations made to the Ed Neigh Scholarship Fund [501(c)3] will be held in reserve for this future endowment. Please specify that these funds should be used for the Sandy Jones Memorial. Checks may be sent to Jack Mahoney 2274 Sunset Court, Lizella, GA 31052 (EIN: 80-0787325). Sandy was also a committed partner of the Valle Crucis Conference Center and was a steadfast steward of their mission. Donations to the VCCC may be made here: https://vcconferences.org/giving or send checks to Valle Crucis Conference Center, PO Box 64 Valle Crucis, NC 28691