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Meet the man behind the headstone on Beer Can Island

Tommy Jackson was informally known as the mayor of Beer Can Island, in part because of frequent visits there. His son planted a wooden headstone in the shape of a cross there after his dad died last year. The island's new owners recently discovered it and plan to let it stay.  [Courtesy of Kelly Borg]
Tommy Jackson was informally known as the mayor of Beer Can Island, in part because of frequent visits there. His son planted a wooden headstone in the shape of a cross there after his dad died last year. The island's new owners recently discovered it and plan to let it stay. [Courtesy of Kelly Borg]
Published Jan. 29, 2018

Last summer, a wooden marker was quietly installed in the center of Pine Key in Tampa Bay. It was shaped like a cross, but its inscription was irreverently reverent.

The middle name, an expletive, began with "F" and ended with "ing."

First name: "Tommy."

Last name: "Jackson."

Cobwebs had taken over by December, when four men bought the 7-acre key — known to many as Beer Can Island — and cleared a path to read the name on the marker.

The owners were left with three questions: Is that a real middle name, is there a body, and who is Tommy Jackson?

His son, Tommy Jackson Jr., 58, of Tampa, knows all three answers.

"I'll tell you who he was," the son told the Tampa Bay Times. "He was the mayor of Beer Can Island."

Beginning around 1990, whenever the weekend weather was warm, the elder Jackson would take a boat with only female passengers to Beer Can Island and persuade another handful of friends to bring their sea vessels, too.

The island is between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force.

Planned excursions of a few hours would at times turn into days of camping on the island or sleeping inside the cabin of Jackson's anchored boat.

After he retired in 2008 from fiberglass sales, Jackson's weekday calendar included such frequent visits to the island that other regulars joked he was its only resident, his son said.

"Mostly people at Beer Can Island would keep to themselves," said Jackson Jr., owner of an air conditioning company in Tampa.

"Not dad. He'd introduce himself to everyone. That's why he was mayor."

No, his father's body is not buried on the island. Nor were ashes spread. He was laid to rest at Sunset Memory Gardens.

Jackson Jr. just wanted his dad to maintain a presence on the island.

So far, the marker is untarnished. Not even the green bead strand with a mug-shaped shot glass that was draped over the cross has been taken.

And the island's owners promise the marker will remain and they will do their best to protect it from vandals.

"We'll respect the family's wishes and the fact he loved the island," said Cole Weaver, one of the four owners who purchased the popular boating spot from the proprietors of Tampa Bay Marina. "I wish I had known him."

As for the middle name, Tommy Jackson picked it himself, while riled up about one thing or another. He was born Thomas Charles Jackson.

"He'd yell, 'I'm Tommy Bleeping Jackson,'?" his son said with a laugh. "I'd tell him, 'You say that so much I'm putting it on your grave.' So, I kind of did."

Friends called him "TJ" or affectionately, "Tiny Tommy." He was 5-foot-2.

"He was small in size but giant in character," said friend Sheryel Knight, 72. "All he wanted was for everyone to be friends and have a good time."

He especially liked women.

His regular group of passengers called themselves "TJ's Angels," said friend Kelly Borg, 54.

He was so strict with his women-only policy that not even Jackson Jr. was allowed on board the boat on some days.

Jackson died of natural causes on June 2, 2017. He was 78.

Despite always wanting to be the center of the party, he preferred a small service attended only by immediate family.

Then in mid July, Jackson Jr. decided something public needed to be done to honor his dad, giving rise to the marker on Beer Can Island.

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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