PagerDuty Mourns the Loss of PJ

by Jennifer Tejada August 31, 2022 | 8 min read

Earlier this week, we lost a beloved colleague, leader, mentor and friend when Phylicia Jones, affectionately known to us as PJ, passed away. Taken from us far too young, we are devastated and share our deepest condolences with PJ’s family and friends for this unbearable loss. 

PJ was a force. More alive and vibrant than just about any person I have ever encountered. My first interaction with PJ was a 30-minute phone interview that lasted 2 hours. We shared a common vision for leadership development, and immediately conspired on several passion projects. At the end of the call, I told PJ, “I think we are going to do something special together,” and she replied, “Oh Jenn, you can count on that.” Little did I know, we had just received an incredible gift. 

PJ was the kind of employee leaders and team members get up and go to work for, day after day. She inspired with her energy, she nurtured people with her care, she shared her time generously, and she paid attention to the tiniest, most important details–a family member’s name, your scariest project, your favorite food, and your shoes. She prepared you to face your fears and challenges, never sugar coating, only “real talk.” She lifted you up with quick wit, her huge laugh, and her confidence. 

PJ wasted no time. She seemed to have endless capacity, the kind of person who made every five-minute catchup last thirty minutes, yet somehow was rarely late. She prepared in advance to ensure she made the most of her time with people, always anticipating and “looking out.” She had a fierce urgency around the work, the people, and the ideas she was passionate about. PJ measured her work in impact–and she had an incredibly high ROI. If you invested an hour in PJ, you got ten back. When you shared a rough vision, she refined it and delivered it beyond your expectations. 

PJ was a relentless advocate for PagerDuty’s employees and culture. She was the embodiment of our values–#TakeTheLead, #RunTogether, and #BringYourSelf. And she brought creativity, enthusiasm, and intention to every interaction I ever witnessed or was blessed to be involved in.

An overwhelming number of people have come forward to share PJ stories in the last few days. It doesn’t matter if someone has been at PagerDuty for years, worked with her on a daily basis, or if they are new and they’ve only met her once. Every single person who encountered PJ felt her impact. She was somehow, to many, many people, their work bestie, their confidante, their coach, or their person–and sometimes all at once. 

As a CEO we cannot have favorites. PJ was my exception and it wasn’t a well-kept secret. It helped that she was everyone’s favorite. When she asked me to mentor her, I couldn’t say no, even though we were preparing for our IPO. Through walks around the block, debates in the office, proposal after proposal and several thousand questions, I always came away feeling like I was the one who gained a mentor, a book recommendation, the resolve to be bold, or a simple lift in my day. 

She was constructive and direct, and I never questioned her sincerity, good intent, or care. Together we conceived and launched PagerDuty’s first annual leadership kick offs, our first leadership development program, our executive learning and development sprints, and our leadership team performance coaching program. In 2018, PJ was the inaugural winner of PagerDuty’s CEO Leadership Award. It surprised no one.

In addition to being a high-performer in her role, PJ was one of the most visible leaders at PagerDuty, in our people team, and in Array, our Employee Resource Group for Black and Latine Dutonians. My most treasured interactions with PJ came in working with her in support of Array. PJ made space for me in her vision to elevate, advocate for, and advance the Black and Latine community at PagerDuty. She coached me and mentored me as an ally. She made introductions and connected me to the leaders, influencers in our community. She was demanding, impatient, and relentless. She held our executives and me accountable to a very high standard. She gave me real talk when I screwed up and appreciated me (often with numerous, animated emojis) when I showed up, no matter how difficult the circumstances. 

As I reflect on what PJ meant to PagerDuty, the word I keep coming back to is “star.” Yes, she was a rockstar in her role. But for PJ, I  mean something deeper. In describing her, Dutonians keep coming back to certain words–shining, sparkling, bright, radiant, brilliant. The language of light, dressed in jewel tones.

And that’s what PJ was for many of us – someone who brightened our day-to-day. But like everything in her life, she shone that light with intention. 

Beyond her work at PagerDuty, she brought expertise to causes she cared deeply about, the Lupus Foundation of America and Beyond Emancipation, an Oakland-based non-profit that supports young people charting a course beyond Foster Care.

Stars not only illuminate. They have gravity. 

PJ drew people in whenever she saw them – for a hug, for words of affirmation, and even for critical feedback when they needed to hear it. No topic was out of bounds–one of her favorite sayings was “feedback is a gift,” and she meant it both ways. If PJ congratulated you on a job well done, you knew it was genuine; if she was upset or disappointed with you, she would tell you why, and it cut deep.

If PJ’s enthusiasm was infectious, her frustration was fuel. Some of the best memories I have of PJ are her frustration at things not meeting her standards or people not moving quickly enough. I would coach her to be empathetic, because she was hard to keep up with, but I loved her impatience. She could not stand still and was regularly walking on a treadmill at her desk, to soothe her need for forward motion. 

People who have that much gravity also have an orbit. They provide the energy–the momentum–that enables others to redirect their paths and chart a new course in their lives or careers. PJ did that too. The number of Dutonians who she connected with development opportunities or mentors, or simply encouraged to embrace ambition is, quite frankly, staggering. 

I am a better leader, and we are a better company, because of how PJ pushed us all to do better when we weren’t stretching enough.

The thing about losing a star like PJ, is they leave such a vacuum when they’re gone that you feel their absence even more deeply. It is an indescribable ache. We are heartbroken and the world already feels a bit dimmer without her.

Intellectually I know that stars don’t actually burn out. They transition. And when they do, they disperse light, and massive amounts of energy, outward. 

So now we point our grief towards honoring PJ by harnessing her light and energy, channeling our “inner PJ’s” to lead with courage, care, honesty, and urgency. To dress for the part. I know PJ lives on in her amazing family, her team, the countless lives she impacted, and the lessons she gave us to carry forward. 

But I miss her terribly, and I am angry she was taken from us. She never took a day for granted, living by a saying from her dad, Peter, “Tomorrow is not promised.” One of PJ’s recent texts to me was, “Hey Jenn, were you being serious about that last idea?  🙂 …Safe travels and thanks for listening to me rant. #LetsDoThisThing! 🙌🏾😍

What I would give to listen to one more PJ “rant.”

For now we are putting one foot in front of the other, starting with finding ways to honor PJ. We are renaming our annual leadership award the Phylicia Jones Award for Leadership which I suspect will affectionately become known as “The PJ.” No one emulated leadership through influence better.  

PJ is survived by her parents Peter and Arnetta, her sister Kamela and brother Nathan, her brother-in-law Ryan, her nieces Jahzaeya and Kamira, nephews Ryan Jr. and Kamryn, her Aunts Dianne and Kathy, her Uncle Arnett, cousins Alvin, Serita, Tara and Chesson, and countless friends. The Jones family is planning a Celebration of PJ’s life on September 17, 2022, in the Bay Area. They are also in the process of designating PJ’s favorite organizations for charitable contributions. We will publish these details as soon as we have them. 

If you’d like, I welcome you to share your memories of PJ in your replies. On behalf of the entire PagerDuty community, thank you for your support.