ST. PETERSBURG — Thomas “Jet” Jackson began his career in recreation as a 14-year old lifeguard at South Mole Beach, now known as Demens Landing, at a time when blacks were not permitted to enter Spa Beach.
A half century later, Jet was honored Fri., June 20 at the Sunshine Center as an African-American pioneer who knocked down the walls of segregation to build equitable careers in Parks and Recreation at the City of St. Petersburg. He is the embodiment of excellence on the job, in the community and with his family.
Jet celebrated 50 years of service with Lloyd Thomas, who was not timid in spelling out Jet’s influence in his career.
“One time I thought for sure I was a goner, but Jet came to my defense,” said Thomas humorously.
Even Mike Jefferis, the director of Parks and Recreation, was not immune to Jet’s backdoor meetings about doing things the right way.
“Jet would call me aside and I knew what was coming, another closed door meeting about something that needed to be straightened out,” said Jefferis.
Jefferis and several other Parks and Recreation employees talked about how he would come to the rescue of desperate parents trying to enroll their child into a specific summer program but the slots might have filled up. He would somehow work his magic to get those kids into a summer program, sometimes even when a fee was involved.
As the audience raised their glasses to toast both Jet and Lloyd, one could not help but reflect on how many youngsters blossomed under his guidance and direction.
“We hope we can get another 10 years out of you Jet,” said Jefferis.
A visual likeness of Jet adorns one of the walls of Campbell’s Park Recreation Center. He may retire from Parks and Recreation, but his service to the St. Petersburg community has become legendary.