A Hollywood film could be made about the life of Elijah Jones, a Hattiesburg native and all-around cool character.
At the very least, a book could be written, and it would no doubt be a bestseller. Jones is just that interesting, and he has plenty of meaningful stories to share.
He has written many of those stories for publications like the Hattiesburg American. He also serves as a columnist for The PineBelt NEWS, and his contributions are always must reads.
The columns vary in topic, but they often dive deep into the history of the Hub City, and they are among the most popular columns for the weekly newspaper.
Jones is now retired, but he bills himself as a freelance writer.
He enjoyed a long career as manager and writer for Richard Simmons, the eccentric fitness guru who retired from public life beginning in 2014.
“My favorite hobby is writing, and I’ve been doing it for years,” said Jones. “I think I discovered how much I love to write when I was a kid in high school. My English teacher called me the poet laureate of our English class back then. I liked writing poetry, and, as I got older, I just discovered that I liked to write, period.”
He enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi to major in radio, television and film, and he minored in journalism.
After he graduated, he planned to leave Hattiesburg to pursue his dreams “in a big city ... somewhere with a lot of skyscrapers,” he noted.
However, there was one problem with his plan: Jones was in his early 20s, and he weighed more than 400 pounds. The excess weight was killing him, physically and mentally.
“My greatest claim to fame, I guess, something that people know me for ... is that I was extremely obese,” said Jones. “I ended up as high as 484 pounds, and that was way back in the early 1980s. One day, I took it upon myself to get well. I just got tired of being obese, and I decided I’m going to do something about this.”
Jones said the decision was made in a split second, and he started his weight loss journey that same day.
“I was a college graduate, weighed over 400 pounds, and I realized none of those dreams, like my desire to have a meaningful career, were going to come true until I lost weight,” he added. “Something inside my head just snapped, and I decided that I was going to lose that weight starting that day, not the next week, not the next month.”
He would eventually lose more than 300 pounds. His lowest weight was 182 pounds, he said.
“The formula to lose weight is so simple: eat less, exercise more,” said Jones. “I said ‘no’ to the food and said ‘yes’ to my health. I made exercise a regular part of my life. I started out trying to run, but at my weight, that was not an easy job. So, I started out walking, and then I got up to running. Pretty soon, I was running and walking up to five miles per day. That, combined with the fact that I stopped eating 24/7, helped me lose the weight.”
Jones said he was assisted in his journey by Simmons, who was gaining prominence for his energetic “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” line of fitness videos.
At the time, Simmons was also the host of “The Richard Simmons Show,” a talk show with a focus on personal health and wellness.
“I became a fan of the show, and I ended up writing a letter to the producers, telling them about myself and how much watching his show helped me keep going to lose the weight,” said Jones. “As a result of the letter, they wanted me to be a guest on the show.”
Jones traveled to Los Angeles to be a show guest, and he said he fell in love with the city. He also forged a friendship with Simmons, and that friendship led to full-time employment with the growing Simmons fitness empire.
“I came back to Hattiesburg, quit my job at a 7-Eleven, moved to L.A., and the rest is history,” he said. “I lived out there for 12 years, from 1982-1994, and I figured 12 years, one year for every discipline, that was long enough. I then moved back to Hattiesburg, and I’ve been here ever since. I wanted to be near my mom, near my family, and I wanted to come back to my hometown. I’ve had a good time ever since then.”
At the time, Simmons was growing his internet presence, and Jones was tapped to help develop content for RichardSimmons.com.
“When I moved back here, that’s about the time Richard started his own website, and I ended up writing for the site,” said Jones. “That became my primary job, answering his daily messages, communicating with his fan base, writing health articles ... that became what I did for him.”
He also pursued his love of writing through other avenues.
“Because I do enjoy writing so much, I also became kind of known in Hattiesburg,” he said. “Whenever something really hit me, and I felt like I needed to speak out about something politically or otherwise, I would write articles for the American, way back in the day. I wrote those columns for a number of years, and then there was a long gap before I was asked to write for The PineBelt NEWS.”
Jones said he hopes his columns – which he calls his “ramblings” – “make a difference.”
“My writing is an outlet for me, because I’m very opinionated, and I consider myself to know about a hundred or so subjects, but I’m not an expert on any of them,” he said. “What I do is ... I like to research. And, when I do write, I like to make sure that I know what I’m talking about. So, I might go online and read about a topic or whatever, and I make sure that whatever I’m writing about, I’ve got my facts straight. One thing my mother used to say to me is that, as long as you’ve got the truth on your side, you can say just about whatever you want, as long as you’re telling the truth.”
He said he writes a column like an artist would paint a picture.
“When I do a column, I would describe it as painting a picture,” said Jones. “I start working on it the earliest part of the week, and I’ll come back and revisit what I’ve written over the course of the week. And every time I go back and look, I’ll say, ‘oh, well, I want to change this, I want to move that, I want to put this paragraph from that place to that place.’ It is really like painting a picture. I get pleasure out of doing that ... I really do.”
Jones said his life is full of other passions, and he still loves his food. However, he said he balances that love with plenty of exercise.
“Food is still a passion of mine, but you know, it’s a trade-off, in order to eat like I want to,” he said. “In order to do that, I’ve got to make exercise a daily part of my life. I cannot start my day without my 45 minutes on my exercise bike. So, I get on my bike, and that way, I can eat what I want and not have to worry about gaining back the weight.”
Jones said he also loves his many friendships and the deep conversations he can have with loved ones.
“The people I know, I’m passionate about,” he said. “I’m not a big phone talking person; I’m not good at conversation over the phone, but I love being with people, with family and friends. It’s part of what makes me happy, being with the people I love.”
He added that everyone should have a hobby or something in life that produces passion.
“You need something to look forward to each day, a purpose for getting up in the morning,” said Jones. “There’s got to be something that drives you to do better for yourself, to be a better person ... or, and even more important, to make somebody’s life better. You know, I love my friends, I love my family, and I try to make a difference, not just in my life, but in theirs. And I think that’s something everybody should follow. Find a passion, and stick with it.”