- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

There were no VIPS, no velvet rope and no valet parking.

The nonpolitical fundraiser had a simple purpose that is rare in Washington: to raise money rather than to elevate the egos of the party givers.

Michael D. Jones and his wife, Shaun, hosted a Mardi Gras party to benefit his hurricane-ravaged alma mater in New Orleans, Dillard University, founded in 1869 to educate former slaves.

Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best liberal arts universities in the South, Dillard is a jewel among historically black colleges. After Hurricane Katrina hit, the oak-shaded campus lost three dormitories, sustained $340 million in damages and was left in more than 10 feet of water.

Mr. Jones, a 46-year-old trial attorney with Kirkland & Ellis who graduated summa cum laude from Dillard in 1982, wrote a personal check for $10,000. Then he and wife donated $100,000 to Dillard for scholarship funds.

The university reopened last month, temporarily housed in the Hilton Riverside. More than half of its student population has returned.

Dillard is the little college that could, mainly because devoted and successful alumni like Mr. Jones have come to the rescue. Dillard’s graduates and friends are banding together, hosting small reunions and writing checks that have raised $14 million so far.

Their loyalty and emotional ties to Dillard were evident Saturday as Dillard President Marvalene Hughes and other guests — some in feathered masks and bead necklaces — poured into the Joneses’ Northwest home to feast on New Orleans-style food, including hush puppies, grilled shrimp, and red beans and rice. Guests greeted one another like relatives.

“The school is special because of the friendships,” said Dillard alumna Charline Jacob, 68, wearing a purple blouse and Mardi Gras beads. “It’s almost like your family. It’s a private club.”

Mrs. Jacob’s mother, Helen S. Lewis, who attended Dillard in 1935, also participated in the benefit. “Dillard will move forward,” she said.

The 90-year-old New Orleans resident said the secret of longevity is “three shots of whiskey every night and a good man.”

Mrs. Lewis lost her home to Katrina. “Everything’s gone,” she said.

Mr. Jones greeted friends and business partners and accepted checks from Dillard graduates, some of whom had traveled across the country for the event.

“I feel so indebted to the university,” Mr. Jones said.

A native of Shreveport, La., he was the fifth of seven children. His father “was a construction worker with a third-grade education.”

Mr. Jones won a scholarship to Dillard and graduated cum laude from Georgetown Law School in 1985. The National Law Journal has named him one of the nation’s top 10 trial lawyers.

But his proudest work is youth mentoring and raising funds for his beloved university. The Dillard extended family is coming together to save the campus and the rich legacy of the institution.

The students will return to the campus July 1 to a parade down the oak-lined entrance that will include drums, music and marchers, Mr. Jones among them.

At the end of the party, a check for $50,750 — earmarked for the Dillard pre-law program — was presented to the university’s president.

“I promise you,” said Ms. Hughes, “on my watch, Dillard is going to continue.”

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