Emily and Don Jackson Endowment for Excellence in Juvenile Justice
Juvenile Justice Advocate Devotes Life to Rehabilitating Children
Ron Jackson will never forget the neglect and abuse he suffered as a child. The fact that he’s turned that brutal experience into a life-affirming legacy is a testament to his strength and compassion for others.
Abandoned by his birth mother, Ron spent his early childhood at the Kansas City Boys Home for homeless boys. His mother removed him from the home at the age of nine and took him to Matamoros, Mexico, where he lived with her and a half-brother and sister.
After enduring a year of physical and emotional abuse, he ran away and turned himself in to border agents across the Rio Grande in Brownsville.
“I told them I was a U.S. citizen and I wasn’t going to live in Mexico anymore,” Ron recalls. The agents took him into custody and eventually he was sent him to live at the Valley Boys Ranch for homeless boys in Harlingen. There he met Don Jackson, who would become both his mentor and his adoptive father.
“He was an interesting role model for any young person,” Ron remembers. “By the time I met him, he had been a football player for the University of Oklahoma, an Army Air Corps pilot during World War II, and an FBI agent.”
Don Jackson had given up his FBI career to pursue his lifelong interest in working with young people. When he met Ron, he was director of the Valley Boys Ranch.“I’m not completely sure what it was that drew us together,” Ron says. “Our values were probably the same. I suppose the overriding thing was that he and his wife knew they weren’t going to have children.”
Don had developed Hodgkin’s disease in his 20s, which prompted him and his wife Emily to decide early in their marriage not to have kids. They had been married only six months when they adopted Ron.
Don went on to become the first assistant director of the Texas Youth Council, the forerunner of the modern-day Texas Youth Commission. He was appointed superintendent of the Corsicana State home in 1958 and died in 1959, shortly after Ron graduated from high school.
Ron earned a degree at The University of Texas at Austin and originally intended to become a lawyer. But after serving in the Army, he got a job as recreation director at the West Texas Children’s Home in Pyote. He returned to the University in 1968 to earn a master’s degree in social work and eventually became superintendent of the Brownwood State Home and School.
In 1973, he was named executive director of the Texas Youth Commission, a position he held for 20 years before retiring. He also earned a master’s degree in business administration from The University of Texas in 1987.
“Working with children wasn’t something that I originally thought I would do. It just happened that way,” says Ron, adding that his adoptive father and the people he surrounded himself with, including Laura Lee Pederson, former dean of the School of Social Work, played an important role in his decision.
To honor his parents and the impact they had on his life, Ron has created the Emily and Don Jackson Endowment for Excellence in Juvenile Justice in the School of Social Work. Proceeds from the endowment will go for curriculum development, scholarships, research, community programs, and lecturers, all in the field of juvenile justice.
It is a fitting tribute to Ron’s parents, and the crowning gesture of his own productive career in juvenile justice.
“He has cared for kids throughout his career,” says Marlin Johnston, a former commissioner of the Department of Human Services, a member of UT’s Social Work Advisory Council, and Ron’s longtime friend and associate. “The most telling thing about him is that he has devoted his life to rehabilitating kids. He has never lost the spirit that he picked up from his adoptive father.”
The Emily and Don Jackson Endowment for Excellence in Juvenile Justice was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on November 24, 2003, for the benefit of the School of Social Work. Gift funds were provided by Mr. Ronald G. Jackson of Austin, Texas, a 1987 graduate of The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. The endowment honors Mr. Donald Jackson and Mrs. Emily Jackson Shurley of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.