By Chandra Harris-McCray
Every step up the staircase marks a moment in time, captured in a photograph, plaque or award along the wall. Humility will not allow Dr. Joseph A. and professor Mary B. Jackson to dwell too long on any one step of the staircase in their Signal Mountain home. They do not care to reminisce on the hows and whys of this or that award.
Merely gliding over the illustrious Phi Delta Kappa's Educator of the Year Award, Mary fixes her eyes on a black-and-white photo. Never mind that she and her husband were the first couple and she the first woman in Chattanooga to receive the prestigious award in 1990. In the photo, Mary is posed in her nursing corps uniform with her four brothers, who also sported military uniforms while serving their country. Mary spent three years in the U.S. Nurse Cadet Corps and another seven as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps Reserves.
Love in the Library
It comes as no surprise, as Mary admits with an innocent laugh, that she has a weak spot for those who serve our country. That may be part of the reason she fell for Joe, an Army veteran with a wicked sense of humor, while he was teaching in the Graduate Library School at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. "He kept the science library so nice and orderly," Mary shyly says of meeting Joe, who served as the head of the science library and acting dean of libraries at the University of Alabama. "I could find every nursing journal I needed. He was watching me, but I did not know it." Joe quickly quips, "Or was it you watching me?"
They were married in 1966. Before they moved to Chattanooga, Joe says metaphorically, "in our covered wagon in 1973," to pioneer the mammoth tasks of "overhauling the library and Mary establishing the School of Nursing" at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Mary put her nursing experience to good use. She served as an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Alabama— "a place I loved and did not want to leave," she says. Joe shared his wife's sentiments, so it took three campus visits and much persuasion from the UTC administration before they agreed to return to Mary's alma mater.
After changing her major three times and receiving a sociology degree in 1954 from UTC's predecessor, the University of Chattanooga, Mary received her bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing from the University of Alabama. "At first my mother did not want me to become a nurse," Mary says. "She did not think it suited me. Her words were the best and greatest challenge I could have ever received. She lived long enough to be proud of me and my choice. I did not just become a nurse, but I did so with lots of hard work and great passion."
Starting the Nursing Program
With that same tenacious drive, Mary founded the School of Nursing at UTC. "It was a program that came from nothing. There were no file folders or books to speak of," Mary says, reflecting on the moment when she arrived on campus.
Within the confinement of a broom closet-turned-office and with the help of her secretary (her only staff member), Mary wrote proposals and grants and developed curriculum, all of which became the foundation of UTC's nursing program. Along with securing more than $750,000 in grants, Mary established a UTC chapter of the international nursing honor society Sigma Theta Tau before retiring in 1989.
By 1977, the first class of 28 nursing students graduated with a 100 percent pass rate on the state board exam. The awards continued to come— Outstanding Nurse Teaching Award in 1985 and Tennessee Outstanding Nurse Educator in 1987. The accolades are nice, but "I didn't do it alone," Mary says, "I had help from other campuses, colleagues and staff."
Building the New Library
Librarians, student assistants, volunteers and an army of capable movers are just some of the individuals Joe credits with helping him oversee the completion of the $5.4 million T. Cartter and Margaret Rawlings Lupton Memorial Library, constructed in 1974 to replace the aging John Storrs Fletcher Library. "Books were piled high and stacked on top of each other. The classification system was outdated," explains Joe of the mayhem he walked into at the old, small library.
"A stairwell fell in as we were in the process of moving books from one building to another. We didn't have an elevator, but we figured out a system to lower the books to the main level and get them moved," says Joe, who holds degrees from Samford University and George Peabody College, and a doctorate from Vanderbilt University.
"It took great stamina and perseverance. Some said it would take a miracle for the library to be revamped and become a showcase for a modernized library program. Well, a miracle happened," says Joe, who grew the library's collection from 180,000 volumes to more than 1.5 million items before he retired in 1994. He reclassified the library's holdings, developed a formal library instruction program, earned faculty status for the librarians and established a permanent archive system for the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
In his 22-year tenure, besides a half-day when he went home ill, Joe never missed a day of work "because there was just too much work to get done— day and night." On campus by 7:30 a.m. every morning, Joe explains, "UTC was our lives. It still is."
Showing Their Gratitude
With their uncommon generosity, the Jacksons have established a bequest and four endowments. The Dr. Joseph A. Jackson Endowment for Library Faculty Development, the Mary B. Jackson Award for Nursing Students, the Mary B. Jackson Professorship, and the Professor Mary B. Jackson Founders Chair in Nursing all serve to advance higher education training in information science and excellence in clinical practice.
"Our gifts are, indeed, more about supporting outstanding academic programs in the future than about us," Joe says. "Someone believed in me," Mary adds, "and I was given a scholarship to attend the University of Chattanooga— that was quite special."
"Our gifts to UTC are truly what we want to and should do," Joe continues. There is no greater joy than knowing the seeds we planted will continue to grow and make this world a healthier and better educated place. We will never stop working for UTC." No award will ever capture the depth of "our love, passion, gratitude and pride" for UTC, is the sentiment shared by Dr. Joe and professor Mary Jackson.
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