“I built a nursing home,” Mr. Jones said the lawyer told him. “I ran back to my buddy Wendell and said, ‘Let’s build a nursing home.’ There was no forethought in it.”
Each man borrowed $1,000, and with other investors their first nursing home got built.
Within a few years they had a chain of about 50 homes, called Extendicare, which they took public in 1968 at $8 a share. By the end of the year the share price had multiplied tenfold.
In the early 1970s — after ending a losing venture in trailer parks — they sold the nursing homes and started to buy and build hospitals. Even as Mr. Jones and Mr. Cherry were amassing a chain, eventually named Humana, that grew to about 100 hospitals, they saw a need to shift direction again.
Humana had been operating health insurance plans since the mid-1980s, supplying its hospitals with a constant stream of insured patients. The arrangement in some cases led Humana’s insurance companies to push doctors to hold down costs, prompting the doctors to rebel by boycotting the company’s hospitals.
Humana spun off the hospitals in 1993 to a new company, Galen Health Care (which later that year was sold to Columbia Health Care for $3.4 million). Mr. Jones took control of a Humana that was dedicated entirely to health insurance.
In 1998, Mr. Jones agreed to sell the company to UnitedHealthcare for $5.5 billion. But the sale was never completed; the deal ended a few months later after United reported an unexpected $900 million charge in its second quarter, causing its stock to plunge.
Mr. Jones retired as Humana’s chairman in 2005 and focused on nonprofit work on behalf of the Parklands project, the Louisville Public Libraries and the Actors Theater of Louisville.
He is survived by his daughters, Susan and Carol Jones; his sons, David Jr., Dan and Matt; 11 grandchildren; a sister, Jean Donoho; and a brother, Clarence. His wife, Betty Lee (Ashbury) Jones, died last month.