Debra Rae Jones
1951 - 2020
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Debra Rae Jones
December 1, 1951 - July 15, 2020
Debra passed away unexpectedly on July 15, 2020, in a kayaking accident in Montana. She was 68.
Born to Ralph and Patricia (McNally) Digman on December 1, 1951, in upstate New York, Debra was the youngest of three children. After Ralph's passing in 1953, Pat raised Debra and her older siblings in New York and then New Hampshire. When Debra was 16, the family moved to Santa Cruz, where Debra graduated from Watsonville High School and then attended UCSC, graduating in 1972 at the age of 20.
In 1976, Debra began working for the Santa Cruz Public Library, first as a library clerk and then later as a reference librarian after earning a Master's degree in 1980 from San Jose State University in Informational Technology. In 1990, Debra began working in higher education at Cabrillo College, teaching critical thinking and research skills, adding a second Master's in Educational Technology in 1991. From 2001 until her retirement in 2007 she worked for University of California, creating an online high school offering advanced placement courses for underserved high school students.
In her retirement, Debra volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children and as a book sorter/selector for the Friends of the Santa Cruz Library. Debra loved to sew, garden, and cook, but spending time with her grandchildren was Debra's favorite retirement hobby. She loved to take them horseback riding, on hikes, do art projects, make cookies, read stories, and have sleepovers.
Debra loved all kinds of outdoor adventure, and took every opportunity to bike, horseback ride, jog, swim, or hike, usually with her partner and adventure buddy, Robert ("Wally") Stephens, by her side. No day was complete unless at least one, but ideally two or three, of those activities had been checked off the list.
Bike riding was a near daily activity for Debra. One of her last rides was an epic journey of 42 miles and 3500 feet of elevation gain along the "Going to the Sun Road" in Glacier National Park. She was also an accomplished horsewoman and loved to gallop over the hills on her beloved horse Pebbles. She looked forward to all her grandchildren horseback riding with her and becoming the "ranch hands" she needed.
Sharing experiences with her loved ones in nature was paramount in Debra's life. She was the glue that held extended family and friends together, arranging gatherings in beautiful places to make memories that we all now cherish. A passing remark she once made on a hike in Yosemite – "I just love moving through space in nature" – perfectly sums up her reverence for the natural world and her ability to be present and appreciative of the chance to lose herself in it completely. Though the rest of the hiking group found it amusing at the time, the phrase has become a mantra for remembering to embrace each chance we have to engage with the world around us. And so, somewhat fittingly, it came to pass that moving through space in nature was how Debra left this world, on a beautiful day, in a beautiful place, doing an activity she loved with someone she loved.
Debra was preceded in death by her father Ralph and her mother Pat. She is survived by her sister and dear friend Susan (Roger) Irvin; brother Ralph Digman; daughters Alyson (Brian) Heim and Jamie (AJ) Sehorn; her four grandchildren: Mason, Gunnar, Paige and Fisher; ex-husband Rick Jones; and her partner, Robert Stephens. She was also adored by her niece and nephews, who loved to spend time with their "fun Aunt Debbie."
An outdoor memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 29, in Aptos. To request more information, please email In lieu of flowers, a scholarship fund for young women has been created by Robert Stephens in Debra's memory at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. Donations may be made at or by check to Community Foundation Santa Cruz County and mailed to 7807 Soquel Drive, Aptos, CA 95003. Please include a note on the check memo line that this gift is in memory of Debra Rae Jones.
"Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her." - Pablo Neruda

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Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Aug. 8, 2020.
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