To celebrate the Alabama Nursing Home Association’s 65th anniversary, we’re highlighting unique individuals who’ve dedicated their life to long-term care and their involvement in our organization. In this article, we shine a spotlight on the 88-year-old Rev. George Jackson. He’s the oldest active nursing home administrator in Alabama and arrives bright and early for work at 6:00 a.m. each day.
By Missy Burchart
Rev. George Jackson is a man with a rich history. Military veteran, minister, husband, father, son. Each title has shaped his life and led him to the place where we find him today; the owner and administrator of Heritage Health Care and Rehab in Tuscaloosa.
Jackson was born in Knoxville, Tenn. to Harry, a railroad engineer, and JenaMae, a housewife. The fourth of six children, Jackson briefly attended the University of Tennessee before being called to serve in the Navy. He proudly served his country in both World War II and the Korean War. Jackson will tell you his time in service made him a better man. He learned leadership and to respect his fellow man. Both are tenets that guide him today as he operates one of the top skilled nursing care centers in Alabama.
After returning home from the war, Jackson married Gloria Gillette from Fairfield and began his career as an appliance salesman. Though he was happy and successful in his work as a salesman, Jackson felt a change coming. It wasn’t long before he was called into the ministry.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Jackson. “There was this small voice that spoke to my heart. It was drawing me into the ministry until one day I knew it was time to do this full-time.”
His first church was Oxmoor Methodist Church in Birmingham. He went on to minister to three other congregations and in 1965 and 1967 he was named minister of the year by the North Alabama Conference of Methodist Churches.
But with the passing of his father, Jackson’s life took another turn. The family decided to bring his mother to Alabama to live in a nursing home. Jackson will tell you that this was not what he wanted for his mother, but as he became involved in his mother’s care and learned more about the business, he was inspired to work in the industry.
Jackson became the assistant administrator at Park Manor Health & Rehab in Northport in 1967 and joined the Alabama Nursing Home Association at that time. In 1971, he became the administrator of Heritage Health Care & Rehab and in 1976 he purchased the business.
“My mother was my inspiration,” said Jackson. “By becoming involved in her care, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to make sure that someone else’s mother, father, loved one was cared for just as I would care for my own. The women and men who come to stay with us at Heritage are my family and that’s how we treat each and every one of them.”
If you Google his name you will see it listed frequently in the obituaries. That’s because the families of those he cares for see him as such an important part of their life and believe he should be the one to give their final blessing as they depart from this world. His faith and experience as a minister guide him to be part of his residents’ spiritual health just as much as their physical health.
Operating for 44 years, Heritage has 216 beds and includes a short-term rehabilitation facility. His employees will tell you that Jackson, 88 years old, is very much a part of the success of the facility. Never missing a day of work, Jackson arrives at 6:00 a.m. to walk the halls, visit with residents and talk with the staff to make sure everything is in order. He’s often the last one to leave at the end of the day and always drops by on the weekend.
“Rev. Jackson is the perfect example of what an administrator should be,” said Carolyn Brown who has worked for Heritage since 1992. “He has always cared for his residents and their families. They are his first priority. He is here every day to see that the best care is being provided. He respects each of his employees and is always available to meet our needs as well.”
Jackson’s outstanding leadership is reflected in the industry awards he and his staff at Heritage have received. Jackson was named the 1992/1993 Administrator of the Year and his director of nursing, Dolores Sargent was named Nursing Director of the Year and Brenda Redd was named Activities Director of the Year that same year. Additionally, Jackson represented Region 9 on the Alabama Nursing Home Association Board of Directors for many years.
“I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences in the nursing home business. I thank God for the 49 years I’ve served as an administrator,” said Jackson. “It has been a great honor.”
Jackson and his wife Gloria recently celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. They have two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Family is very important to the Jacksons.
Jackson said that the best piece of advice he ever received came from his father when he took him to the train station as he left home to join the service. “It was the first time I ever saw my father cry,” said Jackson. “He said that he wished he could go in my place. He told me that he was proud of me and to always remember that. He told me to always remember where I came from and to continue to bring pride and honor to our family.”
Jackson took that advice to heart. It’s why he brought his mother to Alabama so he could be closer to her and oversee her care. It’s why he brought her to live at Heritage until her passing. It’s why his son and grandson are following in his footsteps. The Jackson family believes they have a responsibility to take care of their community. Now three generations, his son Eddie and grandson Blake, are caring for those who they’ve attended church with, those who served in Boy Scouts with him, those they have seen around town every day, who now need their support in the twilight of their lives.
“There is no greater joy than seeing smiles and hearing thank you,” said Jackson. “That was my mother once upon time. That could be your mother one day. I want to make sure they are cared for, loved and treated with the respect they deserve.”
Editor’s Note: Missy Burchart, APR, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham.