The Life of James William Jackson

James (Jim) William Jackson was born on December 24, 1933 at Mercy Hospital in Champaign, Illinois. He was the third of four children born to Raymond James Jackson and Mary Hoyle Jackson. His siblings were brother John, sister Mary (affectionately called “Sis”), and younger brother Robert (Bob). They lived in Rantoul, Illinois where Jim’s dad worked for the railroad. Jim attended Catholic school there. Jim’s early memories included playing baseball in a vacant lot, getting double-scoop ice cream cones for five cents, helping his dad build a basement in their home, running around town unsupervised, building a raft for use at the local creek, and climbing on railroad cars, the last of which got him in some trouble. 

 

Jim’s life was upended at age seven when his father tragically died of a heart attack. On the heels of the Great Depression there were few economic opportunities for women, so Jim’s mother brought the kids to live with her brother, Ed Hoyle, on a farm outside Amboy, Illinois. Jim described this as the start of his “second life” where it was “all work and no play.” Life consisted of waking up by 5:00 a.m. to start chores including feeding cattle and hogs, going to school, then immediately going back to work on the farm. He worked in the fields, hauled grain, and later operated a grain elevator. He grew up fast, driving a tractor by age eight and a car by age 9. He would drive himself and his younger brother Bob the three and a half miles to their elementary school, a one-room country schoolhouse. At Amboy High School he ran track his sophomore year and played football his sophomore and junior years. He was senior class president, majored in mathematics, and graduated in 1951. 

 

After high school Jim continued to work on the farm and played semi-professional baseball in the surrounding communities. He enlisted in the US Army in 1954. After basic training he studied ballistic meteorology in Oklahoma and applied those skills as a technician in a unit based in England. Jim became very close to the men in his unit and stayed connected to these “Army buddies” for the rest of his life. Jim was honorably discharged in 1956 and returned to Illinois, where he was enrolled at the University of Illinois with a major in meteorology. 

 

In 1957 Jim ventured to California with some friends, a decision that would change the course of his life. He was introduced to Rita Malloy by his friends and was quickly smitten. He started work with Southern California Edison (SCE), an electrical utility. Little did he know that he was starting a career that would last over 33 years with SCE. In 1958 he married Rita and started a family. They eventually had five children: Regina, James (Jamo), Daniel, Joan, and Ramona. They purchased their first house in Lakewood, California. The family moved a few times to accommodate Jim’s promotions at work, living in Arcadia (where they achieved the California dream of owning a house with a swimming pool), Visalia, and then La Palma. Jim was an active parent, managing baseball teams, chairing committees with the Cub Scouts, taking the family on camping trips, overseeing the construction of a treehouse, and showing up for all the important events. Jim and family were practicing Catholics, attending mass every Sunday even while out of town on the aforementioned camping trips. 

 

At SCE, Jim started out as an apprentice in a substation switching center. His raw talent and hard work helped him move quickly up the company ladder. His other positions there included being a test technician; a technical instructor; a division engineer overseeing 75 substations; a senior hydroelectric engineer; a chief operations supervisor; a substation manager overseeing 175 substations; a chief operating engineer; a manager representing SCE coordinating with other power companies to manage the electrical grid in the western United States; and a systems operation manager with oversight of the transmission system, power brokering, the energy management system, computer operations, and the system fuel budget. Jim retired in 1990 just short of his 57th birthday.

 

By this point he had married his second wife, Judie, and was living in Anaheim. Upon his retirement he and Judie discovered their ideal retirement community in Lake San Marcos, California. They purchased a home there, enjoyed playing golf, spent time at the club, and discovered a supportive community. In retirement Jim also developed his skill as a woodworker, making gifts for family and friends. Jim sadly lost Judie to cancer in 1997. He then started dating and eventually married Fran, who was also part of the Lake San Marcos community. Jim and Fran spent part of their winters at a time-share condo near Palm Springs. Jim became close to Fran’s children and grandchildren. Jim and Fran were together until her death in 2019. Around that time Jim moved back north to Cerritos to be closer to his children and grandchildren. He had 10 grandchildren (Jamie, Jason, Joey, Elizabeth, Jimmy, Nicholas, Emily, Justin, Daniel, and Jessica) and three great-grandchildren (Judah, Annie, and Elliot). 

 

Like his father, Jim was diagnosed with heart disease at an early age. He had a bypass operation at age 45 and another one at age 60. After having that first surgery Jim never imagined that he would live until the age of eighty-six. Despite multiple heart conditions and two types of cancer, Jim fought hard for his health and lived his life to the fullest. On July 29, 2020, after enduring a series of invasive medical procedures, Jim’s heart finally gave out. 

 

Jim will certainly be remembered for his generosity: he was always quick to lend a hand, and if you ever tried to pick up the check you were in for an arduous battle. He sent many dozens of people birthday cards each year, like clockwork. He would think it was the greatest compliment if you told him he had common sense, and he did. He was pragmatic, valued efficiency, and valued being on time. He was a man who showed up: to home every night after work, to his kids and grandkids’ events, to church, and to meet his obligations. He was a self-made man: all his successes at work and elsewhere were based on pure talent and hard work. His love for roadmaps was legendary: the onset of the GPS era was like the end of a great love affair. He loved sports (many have said he had the talent to become a professional athlete), loved playing golf, was great at fixing things, and was a talented woodworker. He loved jazz and big band music (all-time favorite movie: The Glenn Miller Story). He was a natural leader and an affectionate father and grandfather. He loved listening to a good storyteller, especially if it made him laugh, and could chronicle a good story with the best of them. He was a loyal and devoted man, helping to organize a yearly reunion with his Army buddies, and showing up to his family reunion in Illinois each year. He looked forward to these visits all year. Jim dearly and unabashedly loved his mother, who stood by him during trying times and good times alike.

 

Jim was loved and respected by many. He will never be forgotten by those whose lives he touched.