Sept. 10, 1956 — Oct. 29, 2023
The youngest of five children, Jackie Jackson ’78 tagged along with her older brother, James Jackson ’74, to the basketball courts in Meadville, Pennsylvania, a small, industrial town between Pittsburgh and Erie. “Our mother forced us to take Jackie to the playground with us,” James says. It was there Jackson fell in love with sports, especially basketball.
A few years later, James was there again to help his sister, who was being discouraged by her high school guidance counselor from applying to Princeton. “Don’t listen to them. Apply and you’ll get in,” James said. He was right.
Jackson joined the Princeton women’s basketball team in 1974, and captain Mary Walrath ’76 says her impact was felt immediately. “Jackie elevated the skill set on the team right away. We dominated the Ivies,” Walrath says.
Princeton won the Ivy League title all four years Jackson played and had a 63-22 record during that period. Jackson was the first Black woman in any sport at Princeton to be named team captain and finished her career averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, both still ranking in the top 10 in University history.
“Jackie was a linchpin in our success,” says Margaret Meier Benchich ’78, who shared with Jackson the Von Kienbusch Award, given to the best senior female athlete each year. “I wanted to be as good on the court as Jackie. She had quiet strength combined with a dry sense of humor. Reconnecting with her at our 40th reunion, I fully realized the type of person she was. Being around Jackie, she radiated an energy of goodness. She made me want to be a better person.”
Laura Megill ’76 remembers Jackson on the court as unassuming — a player who didn’t draw attention to herself yet still often ended up leading her team in scoring. She finished her career with 1,113 points.
“Jackie was a smooth basketball player with a quick release and quick first step to the basket,” Megill says.
“She would pop the outside shot or drive to the basket, leaving defenders on their heels. She led by example with an even temperament and consistent play. She was a cheerful teammate and a leader whom you wanted to play with and do your best for.”
Jackson’s passion off the court was doing good in the world and helping others. After Princeton, she took those leadership skills she cultivated in basketball and applied them to her work, serving as a missionary for more than 25 years all over the world, including in Uganda, Zambia, South Africa, and Peru.
Jackson teamed up with pastors in underdeveloped communities to assess the needs of the people. Sometimes she would help get a school or church built, or coordinate a team to provide medical services.
“She watched out for us. Jackie put everyone ahead of herself,” says her sister Debra Jo Jackson.
In the early 1990s, Jackson moved to Florida to take care of her ailing mother and join Missionary Ventures. Another sister, Pam Jackson, says, “When she lived in Florida, even though Jackie couldn’t swim, she was always trying new things, like kayaking. She wasn’t afraid to go out in the water.”
Always enjoying technology, Jackson eventually went to work at an Apple store, first on the floor, then she quickly was promoted to the Genius Bar. Jackson knew her place there was to help others. At Jackson’s memorial service, the Apple store closed as the entire staff took off to attend and celebrate their beloved co-worker.
Throughout her life, Jackson was committed to helping others. She also worked with God’s Love We Deliver, a nonprofit that makes and delivers high-quality, nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS who can’t prepare meals for themselves. Jackson even went out on her own, buying bottled water and delivering it to the unhoused on hot days in her community.
“How lightly she wore the mantle of greatness,” James says.
Nicholas Devito is PAW’s Class Notes/Memorials editor.