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Romano: It's time to repay a lifetime of service by the man they call Jet

Thomas “Jet” Jackson has worked for the city of St. Petersburg for 50 years.

Special to the Times

Thomas “Jet” Jackson has worked for the city of St. Petersburg for 50 years.

The note does not include a name, just a room number at a local hospital.

Of course, it would be nicer to have a little more info to work with, but Thomas Jackson isn't one to complain. He's been given a place to go and told of a person in need.

Really, what else does a compassionate man require?

For the better part of forever, this is how things have worked around St. Petersburg's recreation department. If you need help — help beyond schedules and equipment and the mundane — you turn to the man they call Jet.

He finds jobs for those who have nowhere to turn. He provides a shoulder for those in need of support.

"It's not just that he's worked for the city for 50 years, it's the impact that he has had on the community all those years," said St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell, who spent three summers in the early 1990s working for Jackson.

"People would come to him with problems that had nothing to do with the rec center, and he never turned them away. I think it might be a remnant of the days when African-Americans got very little support from the city, and they had to count on each other. He was part of their support system. He was the person they would turn to."

It was a different world, and St. Pete was a different place when Jackson used to hang around outside of Jennie Hall Pool as a little boy in the 1950s. He couldn't afford the fee, so a cashier took pity on him and let him slip by.

Eventually, he became a swimmer, a diver, a lifeguard. Then a counselor, a mentor, a supervisor. Now, the city will ensure that Jet Jackson becomes a St. Petersburg icon.

This notion of officially repaying a lifetime of service was originally the brainstorm of state Rep. Darryl Rouson, who spent his summers playing at the Wildwood rec complex where Jackson worked. After attending Jackson's 70th birthday party this summer, Rouson had an epiphany while driving past Wildwood.

He called City Council member Wengay Newton and asked if he would request the city re-name Wildwood in honor of Jackson. Rouson then lobbied other council members.

The city charter discourages naming buildings after living people, but the idea sailed through its first council test and an ordinance is expected to be approved today.

"The number of lives he has touched cannot be quantified," Rouson said. "We don't often give flowers to people while they yet live, but if not Jet, then who?"

Ask Jackson about this impending honor, and he has little to say. It is like being rewarded, he says, for what has come naturally to him.

The years have not just accrued for Jackson, they have overlapped. He has seen the children of children of children he once watched over coming back to him.

He can't always place faces, or even names, but he always recognizes the look of need. Or fear. Or gratitude.

Sitting in his city office, Jackson looks at his watch and declares it is time to go. His wife, Rhonda, has been feeling ill, and he needs to get home to fix dinner. And then he needs to get to that hospital room. Not because he knows the young lady, but simply because someone asked.

Romano: It's time to repay a lifetime of service by the man they call Jet 08/06/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 8:35pm]

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