Bill Jackson, a pioneering outdoorsman who founded an adventure-based sporting goods store that bears his name, died this morning at a St. Petersburg nursing home three weeks after suffering a fall at home.
The 98-year-old, who also helped to introduce scuba diving to the west coast of Florida, started his outdoors career as a minimalist. In 1930, the 15-year-old Atlanta native hitched a ride across the country to the Grand Canyon, which he explored with friends sans equipment.
"They just stripped off their shirts down to their jeans and started climbing," said his son, Darry Jackson, 65. When they got down to the canyon floor, into the heat, they realized that it might have been a good idea to pack water. "So they looked around and found some old whiskey bottles floating in the river," he added.
Bill Jackson was also the first president of the invitation-only St. Pete Underwater Club, now known as the club for hard-core, blue-water hunters. His wife of 67 years, Harriet, was a frequent companion on his outdoor adventures.
In 1946, after serving with distinction in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Maj. William B. Jackson returned to MacDill Field in Tampa, where he hoped to open a construction business. But as luck would have it, "Mr. J," as he is called by friends and family, began buying and selling Army surplus, which eventually turned into an outdoors store called Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure, now on a wooded patch of land on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park.