Hokey Jackson was, among other distinctions, a raconteur and a colorful character who was cagey and clever — especially when there was a little action involved with his foursome on the golf course.
His stories could have filled a book, maybe several. His love of life and people endeared him to generations. Jackson, who played baseball for the University of Georgia in the late 1940s, was beloved because he gave of himself to everyone with whom he was affiliated, a selfless man indeed.
Just about a month or so ago, at time when the bass and bream were eager to scarf down a baited hook, Jackson happened by my office. He just seemed to glide into my presence, unannounced but certainly not unwelcome. If you were busy when he came around, you eagerly set aside all priorities and let him sound forth with whatever was on his mind.
On that day, he was inclined to reminisce about his minor league baseball days. When he played in the Ogeechee League and the Georgia State League in the 1950s, you negotiated as hard as you played. Jackson was good at both.
He recalled how he bargained with the owner of the ballclub in Sandersville for an extra $100 a month.
“A hundred dollars was a lot of money back then,” Jackson drawled. “Still is if you are in a poker game.”
Jackson could be entertaining without being an entertainer. His gifted conversational style was laced with dry and seasoned humor. He was cogently insightful. He could tell a tale because he enjoyed people and had feeling for his friends.
“You remember Oliver Hunnicutt?” Jackson would ask. “Did I ever tell you about the time ...”
Off he would go, galloping into a long-ago scene when the Peach State was occupied by high school coaches like Hunnicutt, who rode fundamentals to championships at LaGrange and resided at the epicenter of the community’s spirit.
Although Jackson’s sport in college and the pros was baseball, he went on to coach high school football, including leading Hinesville’s Bradwell Institute from 1957 to 1969, a stretch that included a 96-36-6 win-loss record, a state title and a runner-up finish for The Tigers. (Jackson had been a four-sport standout at Atlanta Tech High School, with basketball and track and field joining baseball and football on his list of activities.)
In the days of Hunnicutt and Jackson, high school coaches were leaders who not only had custody of the community’s kids, they held a grasp on the citizenry’s pride. If a coach had another winning season, if he contended for a title, the community’s halo was buffed and polished.
Jackson was one of those coaches who instilled pride in his community. He inspired confidence and taught kids the right kind of values while he was scheming to post victories under the Friday night lights.
He had been a three-time baseball letterman for the Bulldogs in the years when freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition. After graduation, he landed in Jesup as a football assistant to John Donaldson, the “other” halfback in Georgia’s Charley Trippi backfield of the 1940s.
Philosophically, Hokey and John Donaldson were as similar as one Volkswagen Beetle was to another in the 1960s. They coached fundamental football. Eliminate risk, don’t beat yourself.
When there was down time, they were usually casting for a bass or knocking down a pair of quail on a covey rise. Both coaches loved fishing. In fact Atlanta Journal sports writer Jim Minter wrote a story about Jackson and his dog Clegg, who could point to fish the way other canines point to birds.
Before you think you are being taken for a sucker, you should hear Jackson’s story. Clegg — named for Clegg Starks, the Bulldogs’ famous water boy — was always by his owner’s side. Jackson would take Clegg out on the lake when the bream were bedding. Jackson explained that when bream were bedding they gave off an odor the keen-nosed Clegg could detect.
Jackson might embellish, but he wasn’t given to fabrication. I always believed the story about Clegg finding fish.
The former Bulldog’s storytelling was silenced late last week. Jackson was 89.
If you knew him, you feel as I do. I’m down. When we lose a friend of faith, happiness, integrity and genuineness, we have lost someone special.
No doubt Jackson and Clegg are somewhere looking for a bream bed right about now.
Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.