The TV Host: Who turns into a taxi

Five mornings a week she is the anchor of the News 4 WOAI Today show and host of the station’s San Antonio Living, this city’s No. 1 lifestyle program for women.

“Then, in the afternoons, I turn into a taxi,” she jokes. That’s when she becomes just “Mommy” to her two daughters: Tabitha, 5, and Bailey, who recently turned 9. After she leaves work, Jones picks up the kids and they make the rounds, keeping up with family activities, including Bailey’s karate and dance class schedules and her Girl Scout meetings. They shop for groceries and the myriad of other things it takes to keep a family fueled and on the go.

How do the girls feel about their Mommy’s double life? “Tabi is just a happy child. Bailey used to think it was embarrassing that her mother was on TV,” Jones says. Subsequently, her firstborn has done an about-face: “She has decided she wants to be a reporter.”

Bailey has launched her apprenticeship by mimicking not only what her mother does but also the roles of traffic reporter Shelly Miles and weather reporter Maclovio Perez. “In her eyes Mom has become a little hipper these days,” Jones explains.

The beginning of Jones’ workday gives new meaning to the term “wee hours of the morning.” Each weekday she hops out of bed at 2:45 a.m. She gets dressed for the relentless eye of the camera and is bright-eyed and ready for action at 5 a.m., when the two-hour WOAI Today show kicks off.

From 7 until 8 a.m., she does news cut-ins and promos for the next day, checks phone messages and begins responding to the voluminous number of e-mails generated by the show. At 8 a.m. she starts reading scripts and doing research for the San Antonio Living show. At 8:30 she meets with the producers. At 9:05 she meets with the production staff to go over such technical aspects as camera shots and music.

Then, (without benefit of a phone booth) she changes clothes, modifies her hairstyle and switches gears for the Living show, which is on from 10 to 11 a.m. Afterwards she does promos and attends meetings for the next day’s show and answers more e-mails and phone calls. “We definitely welcome story ideas from viewers. We want the show to be interactive,” she says.

“I wrap up my workday at 1:45 p.m. That’s when I become just Mommy,” Jones says.

Jones’ face is out there in front of the camera, but she is quick to tell you that she is no one-woman band. She is backed up by a small army of broadcast professionals beginning with executive producer Danielle Austin, who also handles some on-camera promos and e-mails responses. Standing out of camera range are other members of the producing staff, including Karina Cardona, Marisa Ayala, Ariceli Cardenas and Monica Nino.

These people are vital to her work life, but her success would not be conceivable without the true wind beneath her wings, Michael Anthony Jones II, the advertising executive to whom she has been married for 12 years. “He’s a great husband and a great father. With my hours, he has to take on the role of single parent in the mornings,” she says.

Jones has the children’s clothes laid out and their breakfast ready each day. “Sometimes all they have to do is heat it up,” she says. “But Mike has to get them dressed. He has learned to do little girl things, like ponytails and bows in hair.”

The glare of the public eye on Jones is one of the most potentially troublesome areas her husband has to deal with. “That’s never been a problem for him,” she comments. “When we met, he had no idea what I did. He liked me for me.” He still does. “He’s really not that much into my public persona,” she explains.

The Joneses are private people who enjoy private activities. However, Mike doesn’t mind strangers approaching them when they are out in public, and Leslie encourages it. Even when she is not working, her professional life always is in the periphery of her mind’s eye.

“I welcome people coming up to say hello. What they have to say is usually positive, and I never know when I’m going to run into a good story idea, whether it’s at Bailey’s karate, at the grocery store, at a black-tie gala or fishing on the river,” she says.

The Jones’ parallel lives actually nourish each other. “San Antonio Living is geared toward women and families. Being a mother myself helps me communicate better with them. We share the same interests and concerns,” she says. “I love bringing something new to the viewers. Every day I am learning new information that I can impart to them. It’s also information that makes me a better parent.

“We tackle very serious subjects, such as breast and prostate cancer and serious back problems. It’s also satisfying to know that we have made someone laugh on a bad day. My biggest compliment is an e-mail from a viewer that begins by describing a very bad day and ends up by saying, ‘I have never laughed so much.’

“The most satisfaction I get is in touching people’s lives, learning about them and sharing their information with others,” Jones says. The stories that hit her hardest come from guests who have faced and overcome seemingly impossible challenges.

“One story I’ll never forget is about a mother whose 13-year-old daughter was killed in an accident. She was so courageous. She donated her child’s organs for transplant, and she was urging grieving parents to donate their loved ones’ organs to give life to others. She had to help me through that interview,” she recalls.

Other shows that are etched in her memory featured the deeply personal stories shared in the hope of helping others — a heartbroken mother who lost her child to sudden infant death syndrome and families who have taken on the heroic role of adoptive parents to a houseful of needy children.

Jones admits to occasionally being just a tad starstruck. For instance, on one show, petite Leslie was joined by a guest co-host who literally was larger-than-life — Spurs star Bruce Bowen. “I’m such a Spurs fan that I did have butterflies a little bit,” she admits.

On a recent trip to New York, she interviewed a slew of A-list celebrities, including Donald Trump, Marcia Gay Harden and Billy Bob Thornton. She calmed a mild attack of nerves by mentally reinforcing the fact that “they are just people.”

Some celebs seem focused on themselves to the point of distraction, she explains. Thornton was a notable exception. “He is a person whose charisma fills the room, and I have never interviewed anyone who was so completely present during the interview,” she says.

The same statements might apply to Jones. Her charisma unquestionably fills the TV screen, and she credits her tremendous energy, enthusiasm and focus to her upbringing. She was born in San Antonio and raised in Austin along with her brother, Richard, who now owns a computer company in Austin.

She considers the strong work ethic she learned from her mother and father and her two sets of grandparents to be among her most valuable personal assets. “That’s something a child absorbs,” she says.

Her mother, Lois Bohl, managed, like her daughter, to “have it all.” Only instead of wearing a number of hats simultaneously, she wore them serially.

“She was a fabulous stay-at-home mom and a community volunteer when I was growing up. When I was in elementary school, she went back to school and got her teaching degree. Then when I was in college, she got her master’s,” Jones says.

Bohl taught school and worked as a counselor for 25 years before retiring two years ago. Jones’ father, Franklin Bohl, was an insurance manager, a National Guard helicopter pilot and a volunteer firefighter before retirement gave him the leisure to fully indulge his passion for the golf course.

Some of Jones’ happiest childhood memories are of time spent with her maternal grandparents in LaCoste, J.C. and Lorine Rihn, and her paternal grandparents in Devine, Edward and Ella Bohl. “They had cows, chickens, peacocks and even catfish and bass. I fed the chickens and gathered the eggs. There was always something to do. My grandmother in Devine even raised quail and cockatiels. I was a regular (Beverly Hillbillies) Ellie Mae. When I was Tabi’s age, I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up,” Jones says.

Jones earned two degrees from the University of Texas at Austin: a Bachelor of Arts in government and a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism. While she was in college, she interned for three years in radio and television. Most notable was an internship with CNN in Washington, D.C.

She began her career in 1989, first as a reporter and later as an anchor, reporter, producer, intern coordinator, assistant news director and editor with KAMC-TV and CBS-affiliate KLBK-TV in Lubbock. She also was an anchor and reporter with WBBH-TV in Fort Myers, FL, for four years.

She met and married native Texan Mike Jones. The couple became a threesome, and in 1996 they relocated to the family home in Devine, where Jones planned to be a stay-at-home mom to infant Bailey. “That lasted only six months before WOAI-TV called,” she says.

Jones’ dedication to community service encompasses church work as a faith formation teacher, membership on the San Antonio rodeo committee and membership in a corral club raising money for children in agriculture. She is a former board member of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and a former member of the Junior League of San Antonio.

Her outstanding service has been recognized by American Women in Radio and Television with a Gracie Award for “realistic and faceted portrayal of women,” and Macy’s Heart and Soul Award for stories on breast cancer.

Author: Loydean Thomas

Photographer: Liz Garza Williams

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