Hokey Jackson was, among other distinctions, a raconteur and colorful character, who was cagey and clever, especially when there was a little action involved with his foursome on the golf course. His stories could have filled a book, maybe several. His love of life and people endeared him to generations.
Jackson, who died June 26 at age 89, was beloved because he gave of himself to everyone with whom he was affiliated, a selfless man indeed.
Just about a month or so ago, at time when the bass and bream were eager to scarf down a baited hook, Hokey happened by my office. He just seemed to glide in my presence, unannounced but certainly not unwelcomed. If you were busy when Hokey came around, you eagerly set aside all priorities and let him sound forth with whatever was on his mind.
On that day, he was inclined to reminisce about his minor league baseball days. When he played in the Ogeechee League and the Georgia State League in the ‘50s, you negotiated as hard as you played. Hokey was good at both. He recalled how he bargained with the owner of the ball club in Sandersville for an extra hundred dollars a month. “A hunderd dollars,” Hokey drawled, “was a lot of money back then. Still is if you are in a poker game.”
Hokey could be entertaining without being an entertainer. His gifted conversational style was laced with dry and seasoned humor. He was cogently insightful. He could tell a tale because he enjoyed people and had feeling for his friends. “You remember Oliver Hunnicutt? Did I ever tell you about the time…” Off he would go, galloping into a long-ago scene when Georgia was occupied by high school coaches like Hunnicutt at LaGrange, who rode fundamentals to championships and resided at the epicenter of the community’s spirit.
High school coaches were leaders who not only had custody of the community’s kids, they held a grasp on the citizenry’s pride. If a coach had another winning season, if he contended for a title, the community’s halo was buffed and polished. Hokey was one of those coaches who instilled pride in his community. He inspired confidence and taught kids the right kind of values while he was scheming to post-victory under Friday night’s lights.
Hokey lettered for the Georgia Bulldogs in baseball for three years back when freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition. After graduation, he landed in Jesup as a football assistant with John Donaldson, the “other” halfback in the Charley Trippi backfield of the ‘40s. Philosophically, Hokey and John Donaldson were as similar as one Volkswagen Beatle was to another in the ’60s. They coached fundamental football. Eliminate risk, don’t beat yourself. When there was downtime, they were always casting for a bass or knocking down a pair of quail on a covey rise. Both coaches loved fishing. In fact, Jim Minter, onetime sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal, wrote a story about Hokey and his dog Clegg, which could point fish.
Before you think you are being taken for a sucker, you should hear Hokey’s story. Clegg, named for Georgia’s famous water boy, was always by Hokey’s side. Hokey would take Clegg out on the lake when the bream were bedding. Hokey explained that when bream were bedding they gave off an odor that the keen-nosed Clegg could detect. Hokey might embellish, but he wasn’t given to fabrication. I always believed the story about Clegg pointing fish.
Hokey’s storytelling was silenced late last week. If you knew him, you feel as I do. I’m down. When we lose a friend of faith, happiness, integrity, and genuineness, we have lost someone special. No doubt Hokey and Clegg are somewhere looking for a bream bed right about now.
Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.