For nearly two decades, Larry Jackson led the small school at the heart of Greenwood that would make a name for itself in South Carolina as Lander University.
Jackson, 92, died Tuesday night, but much of his life was spent dedicated to enriching the quality of education for students at not only Lander, but in schools across the world.
Prior to Lander, Jackson had a legacy of his own working in academia in Chile, Germany, India and around the world before landing in Greenwood in 1973.
A graduate of Wofford College in 1947, he had a special place in his heart for small, liberal arts colleges.
Oscar Page became provost and vice president for academic affairs at Lander College a few years after Jackson came on, and has remained friends with him ever since.
“He was a man of great compassion. He was a man who understood and gained great insight into numerous cultures throughout the world, and as a result, he had a good understanding of people in various parts of life,” Page said.
Born with a compassionate heart that led him to become a global citizen, it was this understanding and open-mindedness that made Jackson a unique leader at Lander, Page said.
“He truly understood servant leadership — leadership that puts others before yourself,” Page said.
Through 19 years as Lander’s leader, Jackson saw the school graduate its first class of nursing students with bachelor’s degrees and saw the college transform into a university.
He was chosen as Lander College’s ninth president after Don Herd retired in 1973, and the Florence native came to Greenwood with experience as director of Santiago College in Chile, provost of Callison College of the University of the Pacific — with a year of experience at its campus in India — among other accolades.
A professor at Lander during Jackson’s tenure, Bettie Rose Horne said Jackson rose the school to prominence.
“From the faculty point of view, I can say that Dr. Jackson had a vision for putting Lander into the mainstream, a conversion from a sleepy little school that took vision and hard work,” Horne said.
It was there Horne, commissioner for the 3rd Congressional District to the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, said she was inspired to achieve greater heights as a professor.
“He accepted those of us who were already here and challenged us to reach a highest potential,” she said.
A mentor to the faculty, Horne said Jackson helped teachers receive their doctorates and sought programs that supported and stimulated students.
“Together we all responded to his wish to create an innovative curriculum which would challenge the best students but also provide a network of support which would nurture the development of first-generation students,” Horne said.
Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University in Florence, was a longtime friend to Jackson and his wife, Barbara. Carter met Jackson in 1987, which started a friendship that lasted decades.
Carter said Jackson and Harry Lightsey, president of College of Charleston, were powerful influences that drove academia to greater heights.
“They were the giants,” Carter said. “He was much more than an extraordinary university president. He was a consummate scholar of philosophy ... He was a very, very unique man, living in a very, very unique time.”
Carter said he frequently went to Jackson for advice and guidance, and Jackson’s intuition and wisdom was conveyed in all he said and did.
“Even still, it’s hard to imagine Larry and all the great things he did without Barbara at his side,” Carter said.
Together, the two made a fine team, he said, and her wisdom always shone through as brightly as Jackson’s. Generations of college students statewide have Jackson to thank for shaping them, Carter said.
Richard Cosentino, Lander’s current president, said Jackson was instrumental in building Lander into what it is today.
“There are few people whose influence on Lander University is more far-reaching than that of President Emeritus Larry Jackson. Many major facilities on our campus today are the result of his vision for growth and his belief in what Lander could become,” he said. “I considered him a friend and mentor. He was an incredible leader for this institution, and his passing is a tremendous loss for our campus, our community and our state.”
In his time as president, the Larry A. Jackson Library was built, which was the first academic building paid for by the state. His term also marked the completion of the Carnell Learning Center, the start of the bachelor’s degree in nursing program and the formation of the Lander College Board of Trustees.
When Jackson retired in 1992, he was the state’s longest-serving state college president. He was awarded the Order of the Palmetto at his retirement ceremony, as his tenure marked a growth in enrollment from 900 to 2,700, and a spike in Lander Foundation assets from $325,000 to $4 million.
Randy Bouknight, Lander’s vice president for student affairs, worked with Jackson while he was president and said he was a first-rate educator, leader and friend.
“He was a very outgoing person, he appreciated all folks and appreciated diversity and inclusion,” Bouknight said. “He was a listener and an open door for everyone. If you wanted to meet with Dr. Jackson, you were welcome to go in and talk with him.”
State Sen. Floyd Nicholson said Jackson was a mentor and close friend.
“He was the one that brought Lander to the prominence that it enjoys today,” Nicholson said. “He was so dedicated, for not only Lander, but the whole community and the state, because he was the one really, truly concerned about education for young people — all of them.”
A sentiment echoed by friends of Jackson, his kindhearted compassion for others left deep imprints on those who met him.
“He was always looking to be supportive of everyone, and sometimes, people feel marginalized in life, and he did not want anyone to feel that way,” Page said. “He was always looking for ways to help people grow and help people understand each other.”