At the suggestion of Dr. Jeanette Pullen, I visited Dr. John Fenwick Jackson, native of Kosciusko, on several occasions. He was most gracious and excited to talk about his boyhood years in Kosciusko, his career in medicine, and his many hobbies.
At the outset of these conversations Dr. Jackson laughed and said, “I have the cardiac output of a Chihuahua!” Even though he laughed, we both knew what this meant and that was that he did not have long left in this world.
“Everyone knew John was smart, even as a young boy. He invented stuff. He was always building and creating. He launched an airplane that literally went out of sight,” according to his old friend Thomas Craft.
When Dr. Jackson was asked about this incident, he confirmed it. He added that this was a gas powered model airplane and that it had landed in the neighbor’s hog pen. “Those snorting things ate the whole thing before my eyes – wings, wheels, propeller and motor!”
The late Dr. John Fenwick Jackson credited W.G. Skipworth for inspiring him toward excellence.
He said he was one of the three best teachers in his life.
“When Mr. Skipworth realized that I liked to tinker, he put me in the band’s repair shop repairing instruments. I was already setting tool and die for what would become Mitchell Metal.”
Although Dr. Jackson settled on the trumpet, his interest was peaked by strings because Mr. Skipworth practiced and played the cello a good bit.
Dr. Jackson said of W.G. Skipworth that there was an air of expectation in the band hall.
“He made us all want to perform at a high level and we did.” Dr. Jackson was drum major in 1946 and went on to be a member of the Ole Miss band.
He played trumpet in combos that traversed the State which he said helped put him through college. He modeled the new Ole Miss band uniform in 1947 before then Chancellor John Davis Williams, as he himself resembled a toy soldier.
Dr. Jackson credits Charlton Ferguson who was a tuba player in the 1940 Kosciusko band for turning him onto the brass instrument.
Dr. Jackson sadly told the story of Charlton Ferguson as a member of the Navy Band fresh out of high school perishing in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, as he was preparing to play the Star Spangled Banner.
Dr. Jackson was Valedictorian of his Kosciusko High School class in 1946 before receiving a B.A. in Chemistry cum laude at the University of Mississippi. He earned his M.D. Degree at Tulane before he met his wife, Mary, in the cafeteria line at Philadelphia General Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dr. Jackson finished his residency training at the UMMC Division of Internal Medicine in Jackson. He later served on the faculty at Tulane and then took an 12-month sabbatical to Sweden with his family.
He studied with Nils von Hofsten among others at Uppsala University in Sweden. This was the only place in the world doing serious medical genetics in the early 1950s. He returned to become one of the founding fellows in the American College of Medical Genetics. In fact, he and two other fellows wrote the original test in the field of genetics.
He subsequently authored or co-authored over 100 scientific publications. He served on faculty at UMMC Department of Medicine for 28 years and was named Department Chair of Preventive Medicine in 1981, serving until his retirement in 1991.
I had the privilege of sitting at Dr. Jackson’s feet as a medical student. He was known affectionately by medical students as Dr. Rogers because of his kind Mr. Rogers-like manner. He wore a pristine starched white coat and hand-tied bow ties. His opening lecture slide always showed a view from above as he flew his ultra light aircraft out over the Gulf from Miami to the Bahamas.
Dr. Jackson would say his most important achievement was the genetic counseling that he did which was done best by someone who was deeply grounded and knowledgeable about his field. He had a deep love for music and its importance to children. He enjoyed kazoo and harmonica parades with his grandchildren. He delighted in constructing string instruments including banjos and mandolins. His love of nature was highlighted by his creature carvings including songbirds and waterfowl with detail down to the pinfeathers.
When I mentioned to Dr. Jackson that we would name the performing arts center after W.G. Skipworth he responded, “nothing would be more fitting!” Dr. Jackson joins a list of musicians who proudly came up through the ranks of the Kosciusko Band program and spoke of it with great appreciation.