Mary “Prim” Jones, a 1962 graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering, has been named a 2017 Virginia Woman in History by the Library of Virginia.

The distinction, awarded this year to eight women of various time periods across the commonwealth, is part of the library’s ongoing efforts to highlight and profile notable women who have contributed to Virginia’s cultural history.

“Mary is a woman of strong character, dedication, and passion to her field,” said John F. Sparks, a Virginia Tech mechanical engineering graduate and director of programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “She earned the respect of her peers because she is a highly capable, well-trained Hokie engineer.”

A native of Blacksburg, Jones was the third woman to study mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. Jones often tutored her male peers and graduated in 1962 with honors.

She then pursued a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at George Washington University and became the first woman licensed as a professional engineer in Virginia.

Her career began at Atlantic Research Corporation where she was a structural engineer and developed rocket propulsion systems. When the company merged with Aerojet General Corporation (now Aerojet Rocketdyne), Jones was named the executive director of Virginia engineering.

Jones’s expertise was in solid propellant rocket motor design. During the early part of her career, she conducted structural and thermal analysis of metal and plastics parts and solid propellant, as well as the mechanical design of hardware.

She devoted part of her career to being chief engineer on the multiple launch rocket system. Atlantic Research Corporation subsequently produced more than 500,000 systems that created millions in revenues. In her role as the lead technical person for the project, Jones headed the development of the process and design for molding motor nozzles from a thermosetting plastic that reduced the cost of the part by 90 percent.

In the photo, Mary smiles while posing in the driver's seat of a green Gator cart.
Mary "Prim" Jones poses in a Gator utility vehicle.

Jones dedicated her career to improving engineering in a defense-oriented industry. She spent her professional life in a male-dominated field, and her contributions in the technical arena allowed her to move to management positions within Atlantic Research Corporation (ARC).

In 1993, she was on the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board Committee on Advanced Space Technology that reviewed NASA's technology development program for small spacecraft.

Because of her direct experience in design engineering, she was able to bridge the gap between the technical needs and programmatic concerns that arise in a manufacturing environment, particularly in the areas of design integrity and verification versus cost and schedule. When Jones moved into management, she was the first woman at ARC to have held a director of engineering position.

An active supporter of Virginia Tech, Jones served on the Board of Visitors (1984–1988) and in 1992 was the first woman to be awarded its University Distinguished Achievement Award. She was a charter member of the advisory board for both its College of Engineering and the mechanical engineering department.

In 2004, the College of Engineering inducted her into its Academy of Engineering Excellence. The Society of Women Engineers honored her professional accomplishments with its Upward Mobility Award in 1993 and named her a Fellow in 1998 for her contributions in supporting women in engineering. Jones is a Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Jones received the 2017 Virginia Woman in History award at a reception on March 30 at the Library of Virginia.

Written by Erica Corder

Share this story