Friends mourn, celebrate Tommy Jackson

Published 12:01 am Thursday, September 29, 2011

NATCHEZ — Friends and colleagues of Tommy Jackson said they are sure Natchez lost one of its artistic treasures last week.

Jackson, 65, died at his house last Thursday.

Jackson volunteered his time, in addition to many other artistic endeavors, with the Natchez Little Theatre and served on its board of directors since 2005, NLT Director Layne Taylor said.

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Taylor said Jackson was directing play practice at NLT for a modernized production of “Othello” the day he died.

“Tommy, to me, was a Renaissance man, he was able to do so many things well,” Taylor said.

In addition to his devotion to the arts, Jackson gave his time to less glamorous causes and served as part-time director of the Natchez Food Pantry until it closed in 2010.

“I just think (Jackson) had a real love of people and a desire to be helpful,” Catholic Charities Executive Director Martha Mitternight said.

Taylor said Jackson was a talented director, actor, dancer, set designer, singer and stage and musical director.

“He was an extraordinary musician,” Taylor said.

Jackson served as drum major at Natchez High School in the mid 1960s, when the marching band won state awards, Taylor said.

Jackson earned two bachelor’s of fine arts degrees in theater and music at the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s of fine arts from the American Academy in New York City.

Taylor said Jackson moved back to his hometown of Natchez in the 1980s after performing in Broadway shows in New York City and around the country, including a production of “Hair.”

Kevin Martin, a friend of Jackson’s for 42 years and a dance teacher and former professional ballet dancer, said Jackson was the last person to boast about his talent, knowledge or contacts in the world of art performance.

“He wasn’t a name dropper,” Martin said.

Jackson had an encyclopedic knowledge for ballet, film, theater, opera and all music, Martin said.

“He was incredibly intelligent, but he wasn’t a guy that would tell you that,” he said.

Taylor said Jackson also worked with the Natchez Opera Festival and was a production manager for the Natchez Ballet Academy, in addition to being a tour guide at Longwood.

Taylor said NLT feels a great impact from the loss of Jackson.

“It won’t be the same, I will miss his input,” Taylor said.

“He was a tremendous asset to us, he was always there.”

Martin said Jackson tended to give so much of himself to his work without regard to his own needs.

“Tommy had a vocation for what he did,” Martin said.

Taylor said Jackson was a consummate professional and had many opinions.

“Someone with passion and opinions can sometimes upset people. I personally loved his opinions and his passion, and that he was not afraid to express himself,” Martin said.

Taylor said Jackson had recently suffered a series of small strokes and had heart issues before his death.

Some of the NLT plays Jackson directed included “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Big River,” “Chicago,” “The Sound of Music” and “Twelfth Night.”

Mitternight said she remembers how Jackson had empathy with the clients at the Natchez Food Pantry and performed his duties efficiently.

“He embraced our mission to be a visible sign of God’s love for all people, and he lived that out through his work.

“I’ll miss seeing him around town,” Mitternight said.