I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t experienced the loss of many loved ones in my 40 years. My grandpa who I saw once or twice a year passed away in October of 1993 but really, that’s about it. All of that changed last week. My other grandpa — my mom’s father — fell and broke his neck in two places and passed away 2 days later. I was exceptionally close to my grandpa Jackson. We grew up literally next door to him and my grandma. For nearly 23 years I saw him on a daily basis. And he was my hero in so many ways. I always said that I wanted to marry someone like my grandpa. And you know what? I did.
I was given the task of writing and delivering his eulogy this past Saturday at his memorial service. It was an honor and a privilege. I managed to deliver it through sniffles, tears and a constricted throat at times. We ended the service with a slideshow that I also put together. You can see it here. But following is the eulogy that begins to capture just how remarkable my handsome Grandpa Rolly really was.
Rolly Jackson — The Measure of A Man
When someone has lived nearly 90 years, it’s almost impossible to summarize that person’s life. Over this past week, as we were remembering old times, family members would offer words to describe how they viewed my grandpa. It didn’t take long for us to see that many of us hold a similar view of Rolly Jackson. The adjectives his family and friends use are consistent and they are powerful. Dedicated, steadfast, humble, responsible, loving, faithful, selfless, welcoming, honorable. These aren’t just the choice descriptors that rise to the surface, these are the very essence of my grandpa. Looking back, it’s easy to see how and when many of these attributes became a part of him. The a-ha moments multiply and his timeline takes on a sense of destiny — of divine orchestration.
Rolly had a happy childhood and told lots of stories of riding his bike and being carefree with friends in Portland, Oregon. He held a paper route from the time he was about 12 till 16. From this he most likely learned responsibility, consistency and got a feel for what it took to be a self-starter. From 16 to 19 while working at the gas station that also operated as the funeral home in Forks, WA he served people from all walks of life and extended acceptance and grace. He also learned that the mortuary business was not for him. Instead he began to work for a builder which suited him much better.
When his family decided to settle on a piece of land west of Longview, WA when my grandpa was 19, the outline of God’s hand on his life really began to come into focus. The prettiest girl in Abernathy valley, Eva Marks, caught his attention and over the course of about four years he won her heart and married her. You would think that this courtship would’ve taught him patience but I can’t help but think that was a trait that he was born with. In the 40 years that I’ve known him, I can’t think of one thing that he did hastily. He believed that anything worth doing was worth doing well. In fact, my brother, Jeremy, recalls him explaining that “a job is not complete until everything is just right; your finished work is a reflection of you.” This belief not only served my grandpa throughout his life, but continues to guide my brother daily.
My grandma remembers that although Grandpa went to church with her all of the time and was a believer, he didn’t truly dedicate his life to the Lord until 1947 when he was baptized. He then became a youth leader at the Abernathy church. This was the beginning of a dedication to serving God that included (but certainly was not limited to) teaching Sunday School, serving on the board, song-leading, physically constructing the new church building, and picking up neighbors to bring to church. My cousin Corky’s wife Michaela shared with us the day my grandpa died that she credits my grandpa for changing the course of her life. By picking her and her brother and sisters up to bring to church on Wednesday nights, she met and accepted Christ and her life would never be the same.
My grandpa served through church activities and outreach but also in the personal decisions that he and my grandma made throughout their 66+ year marriage. In reading through the memoirs of both my grandparents, I am struck by the simple, quiet promptings that led them to make decisions that would eventually impact hundreds, if not thousands of people. The decision to apply for a foster care license, to adopt the first kids placed in their care, to open a bona-fide girls home — all began with a comment from a state agency worker that my grandpa looked like a guy who would make a great foster parent! Of course those decisions were accompanied by prayer, time in the Word and fasting as well.
And I am struck by the constancy of Abernathy Valley itself throughout my grandpa’s story. Along the banks of Abernathy Creek, my grandpa built their first house and it’s the exact place that their current one sits. The 88 acres of land along the creek that he purchased in 1966 was a move that he wasn’t sure he should make. But that land is what enabled him to be extremely generous over the years. And it allowed him to do what he did best — build. It provided a place for him to not only build the group home but several plots have been home to some of his children, grandchildren and many pastors’ families.
Several years ago, I asked my grandpa how he knew he was supposed to build the group home. His answer was that the Lord told him to. Three times the Lord spoke to him. The first time He said “build”. The next week He said “now”. And the third time “obey”. I’m not surprised that my grandpa and God had these kinds of conversations — simple, quiet, to-the-point. And I’m not surprised that still, today, in builder circles, my grandpa is still talked about. His reputation as a skilled and careful craftsman was matched only by his character.
My grandpa has been described as a true gentleman by many throughout the years and the word honorable comes up quite often. By today’s standards, a man with that kind of integrity alone is rare but those traits combined with his movie star looks is impossible. And that smile. That smile. You’d think that alone would have been enough to reel in my grandma all those years ago, but you’d be wrong. The thing that made my grandma fall in love with him was how well he treated his mother. And the same care and honor he showed to his mother, he extended to his mother-in-law.
Over the years my grandparents cared for many family members — from parents to aunts and uncles to sisters-in-law. They did it because that’s just what you do for family. Each situation and length of care was different but the openness and willingness to serve was unwavering. And it makes perfect sense that the same openness and willingness to care for my grandpa during his final years was never even a question from his own children. You see, the measure of a man of faith is in the legacy he leaves behind. And for many of us, the depth of our grief that he is gone from our lives is matched by the pride we feel for having known him, loved him, been served by him, carried his name or inherited some of his features.
The ripple effect caused by my grandpa’s obedience to build throughout the years is still being felt. In my lifetime that will always be the case because I have been indelibly marked by Rolly Jackson’s influence. But as far as my grandpa is concerned, the good work the Lord began in him has been faithfully completed.