When metro reporter Rafael Alvarez first arrived at The Sun as a clerk in the sports department, he was filled with the dream of becoming a prize-winning reporter and animatedly expressed his career ambitions to Jimmy Jackson, a veteran of the staff.
"Kid," Jimmy said, puffing one of his choice cigars, "I wish you all the luck in the world. But I'm just a hack. Every day, I do my job the best I can and wait for my paycheck to arrive on Friday, and it's a great life."
"That was the best advice I ever got in journalism," Mr. Alvarez recalled.
James H. Jackson, who died yesterday at 63 after a lengthy fight with cancer, was anything but a hack in his 30-plus years as a reporter on the Sun sports staff.
"Jimmy never tried to dazzle you with style," said former assistant sports editor Seymour Smith, "but no one could write quicker or cleaner prose. He never missed a deadline.
"He'd cover anything you'd ask, from pro hockey to high school sports. Then he'd hurry back to the office in his busted-up van, write headlines, take dictation and still find time for the nickel-and-dime poker games we used to have every night in the sports department."
Mr. Jackson, who played varsity football at Rider College in the early 1950s, was a big man with a great appetite for life and a grand sense of humor. His belly laugh would resound off the walls of the newsroom, especially when he was the butt of a joke.
His wife, Agnes, said: "Jim always had newspapering in his blood. When he was 12, he published a paper called The Jugtown Gazette in his Princeton [N.J.] neighborhood."
A veteran of the Korean War, where he served as a battlefield press liaison, he began his professional newspaper career as a sportswriter in Morristown, N.J., before joining The Sun in 1961.
He made hundreds of lifelong friends among coaches and players while principally covering Navy football, all levels of lacrosse and the National and American hockey leagues.
His son, Gerry, assistant sports editor of the Annapolis Capital, remembered the difficulties of covering high school games in his early days as a sportswriter.
"I'd want to ask the coach a few questions and write my story," Gerry said. "But, as soon as they discovered Jim was my dad, I'd have to spend an hour hearing what a great guy and reporter he was."
Taught to box as a 12-year-old by his father, a one-time professional fighter, in the basement of their Princeton home, Mr. Jackson said the bumps and bruises he received convinced him not to push any of his seven sons and two daughters into competitive sports. But he was especially proud that six of his boys went on to play college lacrosse, and the seventh, Tom, ran cross country at Towson State.
"And the best athlete in the family was my younger sister, Bernadette," said Gerry. "She played high school softball and soccer."
Mr. Jackson's passions included poker and fishing, which he enjoyed with his boys in summers spent on the New Jersey shore.
Mr. Jackson is survived by his wife of 36 years, the former Agnes Frohling; his sons, Joseph G. Jackson, Thomas G. Jackson, Gerry J. Jackson, Edward G. G. Jackson and Matthew G. Jackson, all of Baltimore, James G. Jackson of Joppatowne and Navy Lt.jg John F. G. Jackson of Norfolk, Va.; two daughters, Mary T. Lutz of Hanover, Pa., and Bernadette M. Colburn of Baltimore; a sister, Patricia McColgan of Ellicott City; and 15 grandchildren.
A viewing is scheduled tomorrow at the Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road in Hamilton. A Mass of Christian burial was planned for Wednesday at St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church in the 5200 block of Harford Road, where Mr. Jackson was a parishioner.
The family suggested donations to the Cardinal Shehan Scholarship Fund, 320 Cathedral St., Baltimore, Md. 21202.