Robert A. Jones, who pioneered environmental writing at the Los Angeles Times, interpreted life in the state and the city with caustic eloquence and in retirement guided whitewater rafts down the Colorado River, has died at 74, The Times reported Monday.

Jones, who had battled lung cancer for a year, died in his Studio City home Sept. 12, his son, Casey, told the newspaper.

In a career spanning nearly 30 years at The Times, Jones applied an erudite mind and often prophetic eye to California’s water and culture wars, farm labor, urban sprawl, air quality, toxic threats and the changing face of Los Angeles, according to The Times.

Riffing in 1999 on old tropes such as L.A. being a place where *people will drive half a block to see a friend,* he mused that, *maybe, just maybe, an alternative future awaits some of us….*

While working as a reporter Jones introduced three columns: “On California,” first appearing in 1974, “Coast Letter” in 1991 and “Hearts of the City” in 1995.

“He was a groundbreaking journalist,” said Peter King, who followed Jones as the “On California” columnist. “He was one of the first in newspapers to specialize on the environment. He traveled the planet reporting on environmental issues in the ’70s. This was a time when The Times concentrated on longform journalism, and Bob was a master at it.”

Jones was born May 5, 1945, in Memphis, Tennessee. As a teenager he raced dirt track stock cars. He followed a meandering college track, attending Cornell, Amherst and UC Berkeley before graduating from San Francisco State, Casey Jones said. He worked for a small newspaper in San Francisco and Newsweek before heading south to Los Angeles.

His byline first appeared in The Times in 1972.

Jones’ passions in retirement were traveling the globe with his sister, Bonnie Simpson, and whitewater rafting. In all he made six trips down the Colorado River, navigating one of the worlds most intense rapids. Casey Jones said he accompanied his father on one of those trips when he won a precious pass in an annual lottery.

Unsuccessful in the lottery again, Jones didn’t deign to join commercial trips, “where you sit down and go for a ride,” his son said. Instead, he finagled spots as the rower for others who had won the lottery but didn’t have the expertise to guide their own boats. He made his last trip three years ago at age 71.

“It was always something he was really proud of,” Casey Jones said.

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