Remembering Keasley Jones, humanitarian pillar of East Bay publishing

An avid kayaker and a crafty MacGyver, Keasley Jones did as many jobs as a Swiss Army knife for Peachpit Press and later worked at Heyday Books, Chez Panisse and Prison Radio.

Keasley Jones. Credit: Ted Nace

Keasley Jones, an ardent lover of life, an unwavering humanitarian, and a longtime Berkeley resident, died at home after a short illness on Aug. 30, 2021. In his last days, as during his 63 years of life, he was surrounded by loving family and friends.

Born in 1957 to Henry Jones, a “bone man” who in the 1950s helped establish the radiology department at Stanford Hospital, and Margaret (“Peggy”) Jones, a progressive pediatrician, Keasley grew up on the Stanford campus.

Brainy and book-loving by nature, yet more a student of life than a classroom scholar by temperament, Keasley knew how to find (or create) an adventure. As a young man, he hitchhiked from coast to coast sustained by his travel provisions of choice — a head of cabbage and a bag of peanuts. He worked as a San Francisco bike messenger and as a roadside rescuer for AAA, where he learned to jimmy locked windows and doors (a skill that more than one locked-out neighbor would later appreciate). After a wild 1968 sabbatical with his parents in Paris, he went on to travel in Europe and Jamaica, and lived in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Taos, and Boston before settling in the East Bay.

Keasley was incessantly drawn to Bay Area landscapes such as Rodeo Beach and Henry Coe State Park, among others. He cherished Camp Tuolumne and Mono Lake. His deepest reverence was for forests, mountains, deserts, rivers, and oceans. He owned five kayaks, both riverboats and sea kayaks, so friends could readily accompany him on waterborne explorations.

Keasley Jones. Courtesy: the Stephens and Jones family

There was little in the physical realm that Keasley, a dyed-in-the-wool MacGyver, could not fix, find, or finesse. But the remarkable thing was not his pragmatic mojo — it was how gladly he deployed it to help others. En route to a son’s high school graduation, he stopped to help a stalled motorist. He trained in wilderness first aid so he could provide leadership in emergencies. He obtained a minister’s license from the Universal Life Church in order to perform marriages for several friends. He happily gave rides, toted heavy objects, offered directions, and generally kept the world turning.

In 1986, Keasley married Autumn Stephens, his partner since 1978, when the couple met at Synergy, a Stanford University student co-op dedicated to (among other things) social justice, decision-making by consensus, and homemade whole wheat bread. Their sons, Emerson and Elliott, were born in 1996 and 1999, respectively.

In 1989, Keasley launched what was to be a 27-year career in publishing, when a friend recruited him to join his then-tiny venture, Peachpit Press. Keasley threw himself into what was initially a customer service position, but as he would later reflect, it was really the collaborative nature of the enterprise that engaged him. Over the years, as the company grew, he went on to hold posts in marketing, foreign rights, IT, operations, human resources, and, eventually, business management.

His career trajectory notwithstanding, it was Keasley’s de facto role as Peachpit’s unofficial on-site counselor that he most valued. Colleagues who needed a shoulder to cry on, an ear to gripe to, or just a few minutes of friendly human contact all found their way to his office. “It’s all about building relationships,” he often said — “it” being, depending on the context, the key to success, the source of satisfaction, or the overall point of life.

Although professionally Keasley focused on the business side of publishing, he wrote beautifully, crafting sensitive, often-poetic descriptions of music he’d enjoyed, moments he’d experienced in the natural world, and the ineffable nature of human existence.

In later years, Keasley worked as a coordinator for Prison Radio in San Francisco (an organization he had long supported), assistant maintenance manager for Chez Panisse, and, finally, as finance and operations manager for Heyday Books, whose foundational 1978 bestseller, The Ohlone Way, he had read and admired on publication.

Keasley is survived and deeply missed by his wife, Autumn Stephens, sons Emerson Jones and Elliott Jones, and brother Henry Jones. A celebration of life is planned for May 2022.

Following is a poem written in Keasley’s honor by his friend, the poet Raymond Nat Turner.

For My Friend Keasley

(Autumn and E-Crew, 25/22)

I.

In my mind—and sometimes

sub-vocally—I say his name

almost every day.

You see, I call my wallet, “Wally

Gator;” my keys, “Keasley Jones.”

I don’t leave home without them—

A memory trick for remembering

things essential.

II.

Moist morning air burns off into a mild

Mediterranean climate; quiet confidence;

soft spoken humility; Artist’s sensitivity…

and walks in Modesty’s moccasins, Compassion’s

cape, Humility’s tights—and does good deeds sans

Fanfare.

Call him Keasley Jones. Go-to-guy for all things

Science. Suave wiseguy with Whole Earth solution

catalogue. The dude I consulted when fantasizing

Nature ventures.

Hands on superhero masquerading as under-

achiever; Sipping Stanford, Odwalla and other

Brands—before mergers and acquisitions. Be-

fore hitting his Pit Pony Hey-

day. Before managing as Swiss Army Knife of

publishing!

I remember him lending his height, helping

hang photos, posters and shadowboxes on

virgin Freight & Salvage walls: Celebrating

20 years of UpSurge!

I remember unanticipated appearances at

Gigs—sage smile, bent down, semi-squat hug;

I remember messages 2 weeks before his

Death asking if I still needed dental work—

I remember his generous response…Flagged

“For poetry and dental work.”

III.

I beg my ‘white’ people—my Euros—forget a-

bout being like Mike, Oprah—or even John

Brown.

Walk in Keasley’s moccasins a minute—

now and then, here and there…Try

Reinventing yourselves as woke *Prison Radio

Mensches—Assistant Saints like him! Refuse

to turn blind eyes of sand-buried heads away

from concertina wired walls of concentration

camps; guard-towered gulags—violent hellholes

of endless torture…

Paddle in Keasley’s kayak a minute—

now and then, here and there… Try

Scouting downstream hungry, unhoused, hurricane-

ravaged peoples having less than you can imagine…

IV.

November 6, 2019 I wrote on Facebook:

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Keasley Jones, and

best wishes for many, many, many MORE…”

Then I perused his LinkedIn titles and skills and

noticed the one not listed that I’m most missing:

Friend…

© 2021. Raymond Nat Turner, The Town Crier. All Rights Reserved.