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Former Secret Service agent talks about protecting six presidents

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published March 11, 2020

Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock


TROY — Former Secret Service Agent Radford Jones, 80, said that at age 23 he was the youngest agent ever to be assigned to protect a president: President John F. Kennedy and his family.

“To be selected at such a young age was an honor,” he said. Jones attended Michigan State University, where he met his wife, Nancy Heiss, a world-class figure skater, then did police work hoping to be appointed to the Secret Service.

“Our high school senior trip was to Washington, D.C., and four or five years later, I was working in the White House.”

Jones will share his experiences protecting six U.S. presidents — Kennedy, and Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — and many foreign heads of state, including Queen Elizbeth II, as well as the history of the Secret Service at 7 p.m. March 26 at the Troy Community Center.

“Rad Jones has spoken at other libraries, and the audiences found his presentation captivating,” Anna Barlow, the adult services librarian, said via email. “This is a chance to peek into one of the most secretive and important services of our country, that does so much more than guard the president. It is more complex and incredible than we can imagine, and Rad will share his personal experiences. … In a community that has a strong interest in history and biographies, we sensed that this would be a popular program.”

Jones wasn’t in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated, because Jones’ wife was pregnant, so he swapped duties and stayed in Washington guarding John F. Kennedy Jr. When asked if he had a favorite president — a question he said he is asked a lot in the many presentations he’s given to veterans groups, libraries and historical societies — he said, “I don’t like to get into personalization. You detach yourself when protecting. You’re there protecting. They’re running the country.”

He did say that Kennedy’s death “really impacted a lot of lives. He was a younger president. He seemed to have a lot of rapport with the agents. Back then there was no post-trauma briefing. You went right back to work. It was a very emotional time.”

Jones spent the summer of 1963 guarding Jackie Kennedy and the Kennedy children in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

“In that type of environment, you become very attached,” he said. “Some agents had children the same age.”

He said that when he was selected to be in the Secret Service, there were only 300 agents and little attrition.

When Jones retired as special agent in charge of the Michigan division, the agency unearthed in the files a letter he had written to the agency while he was in high school. In it he requested information about the Secret Service for a school project.

“I got interested early on in the investigative side and the protection side.”

He said he remembers coming home from school in 1950 after an attempt was made on President Harry S. Truman and a White House police officer was killed. “It stuck with me.”

Jones comes from a military family. His father served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and retired as an admiral for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. His son retired as a federal agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Detroit.

Jones will also talk about the training it takes to become a Secret Service agent and the history of the organization, which he said dates to the 1860s and was created to investigate counterfeit currency — in 1865, one-third of the U.S. currency in circulation was counterfeit.

The agency later investigated the Ku Klux Klan and espionage, and it protected presidents after President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

After Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Johnson mandated that major presidential candidates would also be protected. Jones said he will explain the formula — funding, contributions and standing in the polls — that determines who is considered a major candidate.

Jones said the presentation will feature lots of historical photos.

Register for the Troy Public Library program at or by calling (248) 524-3534.

The Troy Community Center is located at 3179 Livernois Road.