Friday, September 14, 2012

A Lasting Legacy

The Randolph Herald's "Editorial/Comment" this week is a tribute to Hale Street Gang alum John Jackson. Herald editor M. Dickey Drysdale gave me permission to reprint it here:

Not many people leave a mark on their communities as clear and imposing as the Main Street monument left by Randolph's John Jackson, who died Saturday at the age of 83.

Jackson accomplished many things, as his obituary on the opposite page makes clear, and he was also one of the most fascinating conversationalists Randolph has seen, a man who never lost his sense of adventure. And his greatest adventure came in rescuing Chandler Music Hall from the decay and neglect that nearly led to its demolition.

His fascination with Chandler began soon after he moved his family to a first house on School Street. His 11-year-old son came home one day with the exciting news that there was an old music hall next door.

From that moment, Chandler Music Hall became John Jackson's passion and compulsion. Under his leadership, the brand new Randolph Singers agreed to produce the musical "Brigadoon" in the hall in February. Snow was coming through cracks in the walls and had to be swept from the stage before rehearsals. The electrical system was so inadequate that Jackson had to supplement it by using flashlights for stage lighting, as he described in a memorable 2002 interview with Greg Sharrow for the Vermont Folklife Center.

In the next few years, Jackson plunged into the nitty-gritty of renovation, tunneling through four feet of concrete to bring upgraded electric service, building an orchestra pit, driving to New York at 20-below zero to procure used stage curtains from a Broadway show.

But he also devised a long-term strategy. By convincing the Randolph Singers to stage yearly musicals at the hall (with the constant help of Francis "Red" Hartigan), he created a fundraising stream while at the same time developing enthusiasm and loyalty for the hall among audience members and participants. He organized that enthusiasm into a new organization, the Friends of Chandler.

Jackson also displayed a sharp political acumen when faced with the reluctance of the town-appointed trustees of the hall, who were uneasy about the Friends' ambitious agenda. All of the trustees resigned within a year, and Jackson was asked to replace them with people who shared his own sense of adventure.

In the restoration of Randolph's cultural gem, John Jackson eventually had lots of help from other talented and dedicated people, including Chandler's current leadership, but he's the one who got the ball rolling and pushed it well along the road. The community owes him its thanks.
—The Herald of Randolph, September 13, 2012

1 comment:

Kelly Green said...

The picture below and poem are so evocative.