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The Light, Love and Legacy of Dr. Gayle Jackson

Charity, faith, and love distinguished the life of Dr. Gayle Jackson, whose passing on August 25, 2023, left an adoring family and community to mourn her loss. We honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Jackson during this month of remembrance and observance of Black History. Join us in walking through the memories of her life and work.
Dr. Gayle Jackson as a baby, then in her later years.

Dr. Gayle Latricia Martin Jackson led a life of service to her family and community, through her passion for guiding youth, preserving history, and existing as a beacon of light for those that knew her. Jackson’s passing at the age of 72 this past August was the loss of a beloved mother, wife, mentor and professional which could not soon be forgotten, for her legacy is sure to be carried on through her work and family.

She is survived by her husband Dr. Alvin Jackson, who says he’s reflected many times on the fateful moment he first laid eyes on his future wife in an advanced lecture course at The Ohio State University in 1972. She was one of three students that the instructor had recognized during class one day who had received perfect marks on an assignment, whereas Alvin had “flunked it royally.”  

Gayle Jackson in 1968 at 17 years old. All photos provided by the Jackson family.

He says when class was over, he waited for her at the door, walking with her, pleading that she tutor him so he could pass the course. To his surprise and to what he credits his southern charm for, she let him into her apartment for a glass of water, where he says she listened patiently to his request. He offered to buy her groceries, for which Gayle wrote a list and agreed to tutor him.

Through exchanged looks over months of study sessions that Alvin says were the only reason for his passing that advanced course, the two became a pair. Realizing how much in common they had, he says they made the decision to share their lives together and soon started a family.

They were married in 1977, Dr. Gayle Jackson later graduating with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology in 1981.

Gayle and Alvin Jackson on their wedding day. 

Gayle’s steady work with the American Chemical Society, where she was an editor for 17 years, helped support the family and allowed Alvin to pursue an MD program while he drove a cab part time.

With the co-signature of the couple's “other mother” Fannie Watson, they purchased a historic home in Columbus, Ohio, while both attending graduate school. Alvin met Watson, who worked in the medical microbiology department washing lab dishes and pipettes, and they bonded, with the couple growing very close to their other mother. Gayle received Watson’s highly secret recipe for yeast rolls that, along with Gayle’s other cherished dishes, were loved dearly by the Jackson family for many years.

After Alvin completed medical school, he began working at Mercy Hospital, and the family moved to a beloved home in Fremont, Ohio. Gayle soon became involved with the community, working with and mentoring students, for which she believed it took a village to raise.

Her husband says she was so appreciated for her volunteer work that she was given an office at Fremont Ross High School, where she continued her dedicated youth work, developing the African American College Club there. She encouraged students to dream outside of Fremont, her husband says.

Once a year, Gayle would have students raise funds for a college tour, where they would visit various out-of-state universities, traveling sometimes as far as Texas. She started a Kente Cloth Draping Ceremony that honored students for achievements that were not traditionally recognized, which the high school still hosts today.

Alvin reports from his latest trip to Ohio that Gayle’s vital involvement with the ACE mentoring program, and the numerous other traditions that she started, are being continued even after all these years.

Gayle, Alvin and the Jackson children. 

The Jacksons moved to Savannah, Georgia, after Alvin and a group of descendants, former students, and board members of the Willow Hill School formed the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center. Gayle’s work with the museum was integral during her lifetime, and the community will long continue to see her dedication to the initiatives she led, and her efforts to preserve the history of one of Bulloch County's first schools for African Americans.

The Willow Hill School’s rich and most exceptionally preserved record was loved by Gayle Jackson, whose husband says she was fascinated by the studies of genealogy and history. As the development director, she led what she called “friend” raising, forming important connections to donors and initiating programs like the $10-for-10 months donation campaign that brought in monetary resources to the museum.

Multiple exhibits throughout the Willow Hill Center were put together by Gayle and her husband, some still in the process of being finished, including a room with dedications to the lives lost at Ebenezer Creek during the Civil War. Her husband says this piece of history was very important to his wife, who visited the site of the tragedy during her life. She also preserved numerous quilts that are over a century old and were handmade by her own ancestors.

On the property of the museum is a pavilion that was built during the pandemic. The structure has wifi capabilities, which students in the rural community are able to use to access the internet for educational opportunities. Dr. Gayle Jackson secured the grant funding for this resource, and with her help, the museum began hosting an annual “Techie” camp, where children are able to learn about tech skills like coding. Without the initiative of Dr. Jackson, many of these children may have never had such opportunities.

Dr. Alvin Jackson recalls that even while his wife was undergoing health issues, her dedication to Willow Hill and the community made her a leader in supporting the youth. And it was not only young lives that were touched by Gayle, but every kind of person, including seniors for whom she organized recognition ceremonies for while living in Ohio.

Throughout their life together, the Jacksons took in students and other folks that needed assistance, allowing them to get back on their feet. Her service to her fellow neighbors and the goodness she gave to the community is remembered fondly by her husband. 

Even in her hospital bed, Alvin recalls his wife thinking of others, reminding him, “You must be kind.”

Early years of Gayle and Alvin Jackson's relationship. 

“I would say she is the glue that makes it all work… the connector,” said Alvin, “Just a person of great strengths and ability, yet gentile.”

He spoke of memories with his wife and their kids, going on adventures and road trips listening to jazz, blues and gospel music. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair as he recalled the intonations of her voice when she would read to him.

“For who can find a virtuous woman, her heart is far above rubies,” he said, remembering how special of a woman Gayle was in her dedication to raising their four children and holding a strong faith in God.

Perhaps no place could have been more fitting for Dr. Gayle Jackson’s Homegoing Celebration than the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center that she cherished and devoted years of her life to. It was here where a beautiful service full of friends and family was held for her on September 3, 2023. 

The vibrance of Dr. Gayle Jackson's life shone through her husband’s retelling of her time here on Earth. This May, her family will welcome her 10th grandchild, and while this baby boy will not get to meet Gayle in person, Alvin assures us that he will know her through the spirit and stories told by her adoring family.

The late Gayle Jackson’s story is that of a humble, charitable and God fearing woman. Alvin says that it is only by chance and the mysteries of life that he had the fortune to know and love her.

“I was so lucky that I flunked that test,” he said


Visit the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center’s web-page, to learn more about, and to donate to the preservation of the history that was loved so dearly by the late Dr. Gayle Jackson.