Lander University President Emeritus Larry A. Jackson, who led the institution through its largest period of growth in enrollment and infrastructure, died Tuesday, Nov. 7. He was 92.
Jackson was president of Lander from 1973-1992, making him the longest-serving president of any four-year public college or university in South Carolina at that time. During those 19 years, Jackson's energy and vision helped transform then-Lander College from an institution of only 900 students and few facilities into a burgeoning university with 2,700 students and a beautiful, modern campus.
"There are few people whose influence on Lander University is more far-reaching than that of President Emeritus Larry Jackson. Many major facilities on our campus today are the result of his vision for growth and his belief in what Lander could become," said Lander President Richard Cosentino. "I considered him a friend and mentor. He was an incredible leader for this institution and his passing is a tremendous loss for our campus, our community and our state."
The University will hold a memorial service commemorating the life and legacy of President Jackson on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m. in the Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center Auditorium. The family will receive friends immediately following the service in the Larry A. Jackson Library.
A native of Florence, S.C., Jackson served in the U.S. Air Force as a navigator stationed in England during World War II. He returned to South Carolina to pursue a bachelor's degree in history and political science at Wofford College, which he received in 1947. He earned a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1953, followed by a master's in comparative education from the University of the Pacific in 1972. View Dr. Jackson's full obituary here.
Jackson's long and noteworthy career in education took him around the globe. His international experiences taught him that travel was valuable for not only understanding the world, but also for understanding one's own country. He served as a pastor and preparatory school headmaster in Santiago, Chile, before becoming provost of Callison College, a part of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. There, he developed a study abroad program in Bangalore, India, and he and his family lived in Bangalore during the second year of the program. In 1970, he became vice president for finance at the University of Evansville in Indiana, where he set up an international study abroad program in Harlaxton, England.
When Jackson arrived in 1973 to serve as Lander's ninth president, it was a time of new beginnings for the small college. S.C. Governor John C. West had recently authorized the transfer of Lander College to the State of South Carolina, and Jackson, along with his administration, faculty and trustees, charted a bold new course for the public institution - one that focused on developing academic excellence, enhancing cultural opportunities and modernizing campus facilities.
"No matter how creative Lander's future might be, the newness and renewal that may come to birth will not be the fruits of any one man," Jackson wrote in 1973. "Whatever good happens here will be the fruits of team work, and the team will consist of the administration, the faculty, the Board of Trustees, the members of the Greenwood legislative delegation, the community of political leaders of this region, Lander alumni, and the citizens of this area and the state."
Over the next two decades, Lander would achieve many significant milestones under Jackson's dynamic leadership. Student enrollment and faculty tripled in number. Five major buildings were constructed, including the Larry A. Jackson Library. Housing expanded from 300 beds to 925, with five dorms added. New academic offerings were brought online and the Honors International Program was established.
With a commitment to providing education for citizens of South Carolina and expanding international opportunities for both students and faculty, Jackson worked to build a nurturing, inclusive community in which all students felt empowered and were provided the tools and resources for success.
"Dr. Jackson was well respected and loved by all, both at Lander and in the community. He was always out and about on campus, talking with students and participating in student programs and activities," said Randy Bouknight, Lander's vice president for Student Affairs.
Bouknight worked closely with Jackson as a member of his administration. "There are so many words that describe him - educator, leader, family, mentor and friend. Dr. Jackson's work as the first president for Lander as a state college was instrumental in setting the foundation for an excellent university that is well respected throughout the state and far beyond."
Oscar Page, who was provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Lander College during Jackson's presidency, told the (Greenwood) Index-Journal, "[Larry Jackson] was a man of great compassion. He was a man who understood and gained great insight into numerous cultures throughout the world, and as a result, he had a good understanding of people in various parts of life."
Maurice Holloway, a 1978 alumnus who has served on Lander's Board of Trustees since its creation in 1988, said Jackson was dedicated to serving those around him. "President Jackson was a president for all - a true servant leader, whether at home, at work, in the community or internationally."
Holloway said Jackson had a special relationship with the student body and was especially supportive of the university's minority students. "During his early years as president, it was a very critical time racially, and he brought everybody together," Holloway said. "He made everybody feel they belonged to a bigger place, and he tried his very best to address the needs of all students in the Lander community."
A longtime champion for equality, Jackson counted civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin E. Mays among his friends, and the college awarded Mays an honorary doctorate at Jackson's inauguration. Mays returned the tribute in 1981, when the Mays Crossroads was dedicated and Jackson was requested to give the keynote address.
Jackson's own writings on human rights earned him a place in the entourage of college presidents who traveled to the Soviet Union in 1987 to meet Andrei Sakharov, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nuclear physicist and human rights activist. That visit reinforced his beliefs that the common, everyday citizen must be concerned about not only his rights as a human being, but also the rights of his fellow citizens, whatever their country, race or creed.
"So interwoven are the threads of human life that no single contact is trivial. In our most casual moments, we entertain angels. Around the humblest of us are the influences which touch eternity." President and Mrs. Jackson used this anonymous quote in a Christmas greeting in 1977 - and Lander Trustee Anne Walker has kept that parchment hanging in her office for the past 40 years.
"For me, this epitomizes who Larry Jackson was - that no contact that he ever made was trivial," said Walker, a 1972 Lander alumna who has served on the Board of Trustees since 1988. "He will live on in our hearts."
In 1992, S.C. Governor Carroll Campbell awarded President Jackson with the Order of the Palmetto in honor of his 19 years of service to the college and the people of South Carolina. The award, which is the highest honor that the State of South Carolina can bestow upon private citizens, was presented during farewell ceremonies for Dr. Jackson and First Lady Barbara Jackson.
The retiring president was also honored with a joint resolution from the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate.
At the time of Jackson's retirement, then-Lander Board of Trustees Chair John E. Johnston Jr. said, "Unlike many people who reach a position of influence, Larry Jackson was never tempted to build a personal empire.
He directed the controlled growth of Lander College - tripled enrollment, added new facilities, new academic programs, new cultural programs and much more. However, without conscious effort, he did build a personal empire - one of respect, friends and memories."
Jackson was very active in civic activities during and following his presidency at Lander. He chaired boards for Greenwood County Children's Center and the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics; and he served as president of United Way Greenwood and Greenwood Rotary.
His long-term interests in history and education were reflected in his activities with The Caroliniana at USC, S.C. Historical Society, Benjamin E. Mays Museum Board, S.C. Humanities Council, S.C. Alliance for Children, Greenwood Enrichment Foundation, and Society of Values in Higher Education. He was a visiting fellow at Wolfson College at Cambridge University and at Lanzhou University in China.
In recognition of his contributions to higher education, Clemson, the University of the Pacific, Wofford and Lander awarded Jackson honorary doctorates.
President Emeritus Larry Jackson's legacy at Lander University will live on for generations to come. Each day, hundreds of students, faculty and staff pass through the doors of the campus's Larry A. Jackson Library. The Jackson Lecture series - endowed in his honor by the Lander Alumni Association and the Jesse and Elizabeth K. Ouzts Foundation - provides a forum for ideas and discussion among students and the people of Greenwood. And each year, Lander students receive financial assistance provided through multiple scholarships established in honor of Larry and Barbara Jackson.
"A vital, creative college is a living organism," Jackson wrote in his final Lander President's Report in 1992, "forever growing, changing, reaching out, and serving new constituencies."
In addition to his wife of 64 years, Larry Jackson is survived by his four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that memorials be made to The Lander Foundation Scholarship Fund, c/o The Lander Foundation, 320 Stanley Ave., Greenwood, S.C. 29649. Gifts may also be made online by clicking here.
Excerpts in this article appeared in the summer 1992 Lander Magazine and the 1992 Lander President's Report.