“I am almost shouting-happy to learn that you mean to give your life to preaching the gospel” reads a September 12th, 1944 letter from Gus Nichols to a just-turned fifteen year old “Billy” Jackson. (His birthday was September 5th.) The letter concerned brother Jackson’s request for a copy of the Nichols-Weaver debate, which brother Nichols said he would happily send to brother Jackson for one dollar and fifty cents. Evidently, this letter was special to brother Jackson; he preserved both it and the envelope in which it came.
Thirty-seven years later, I met brother Bill Jackson in Austin, Texas after he accepted the full-time preaching work at the Southwest church of Christ in June of 1981. I was only thirteen years old and had just become a Christian earlier that year. Not too long after this (April 1982), Bill had a heart attack. My father and I went to visit him in the hospital while he underwent further tests. I’ll never forget how strange “the preacher” looked in a hospital gown. We took him a western paperback novel by Louis L’amour. He expressed his fondness for this genre. I knew he was a pretty good fellow then.
Born on September 5th, 1929, Bill Jackson grew up in Sheffield, Alabama. He enlisted in the Marine reserves in the late 1940s and served in Korea in 1951. After his return, he married Jean Newton, also of Sheffield, on August 3rd, 1952. He began preaching while still in the military in 1953. However, after rising to the rank of Captain in the United States Marine Corp, Bill Jackson was honorably discharged and began preaching on a full time basis in 1956. He was educated at the University of Alabama, the Naval Law School (he had enough credits to become a lawyer), and obtained a degree from David Lipscomb College on May 30th, 1958. He majored in Bible and minored in speech. At graduation, he was given an award Bible and designated “the representative gospel preacher of the graduating class.”
His preaching work took him to Florence, South Carolina; Fulton, Amory, and Columbus, Mississippi; Ipswich, England; and then to Austin, Texas. During these years, brother Jackson raised two boys, Larry and Barry, who continue to remember him for his discipline, sense of humor, and patience. It is a testament to brother Jackson’s faithfulness that his two children are productive members of society. Larry works for Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, and Barry works for Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.
I remember brother Jackson best for his work in Austin, Texas where I was (and am) a member. Always gracious and gentlemanly, His inaugural bulletin article began: “In this, the first issue of the Southwesterner for which we write, we’d like to express appreciation for the wonderful welcome you have given to us.” In Austin, Brother Jackson continued his work with the Southwest congregation for just under ten years. In addition to his regular preaching duties, He taught classes in the Southwest School of Bible Studies, wrote bulletin articles, conducted the congregation’s radio program, appeared on a weekly television program, visited the sick on a regular basis, was always present on congregational work days, held six to ten gospel meetings per year, preached regularly on brotherhood lectureships, and penned numerous articles for various brotherhood periodicals. He exemplified Jesus’ command in Mark 16:15. Bill was also an avid book collector. His library in Austin, housed at the Southwest church of Christ, contains thousands of books on a variety of topics.
In 1981 brother Jackson announced the inauguration of the Annual Southwest Lectures, which is now in its 29th year. The first lectures were held April 15-18, 1982 and the theme was “Truth and Error in Conflict.” Regarding this first lectureship, he wrote: “Here is something that can be of the greatest benefit to each of us, as well as to the church throughout the area—and to the whole brotherhood, to the extent that they will accept our invitation to come.” Those were exciting times for a boy of 13+ years old, and I remember diligently preparing the building and grounds in anticipation for this great event. Some of my fondest childhood memories hark back to the various lectures presented by faithful brethren such as Thomas B. Warren, Guy N. Woods, Andrew Connally, Wendell Winkler, and Bert Thompson. Brother Jackson went on to direct the lectureship until the year of his death in 1991, and edited the volumes of lectureship books that those years produced.
As a writer, brother Jackson was prolific. He wrote at least one, many times two, and sometimes three articles for the weekly bulletin, The Southwesterner. His writing was prudent, pithy, and always Bible based. He had an uncanny knack for boiling down difficult topics to their essentials. His articles also appeared in various brotherhood periodicals such as Contending for the Faith, the Firm Foundation, and the Gospel Advocate. After the congregation acquired the Christian Worker, he became its co-editor along side of David P. Brown. His articles were a healthy mixture of positive exhortation, and reproof and rebuke (2 Timothy 4:2). He was not afraid to tackle the bellwether issues of the day including such topics as homosexuality, abortion, and marriage, divorce, and remarriage. His pen was a constant clarion call for truth, sound doctrine, and righteous living (Titus 2:1). He wrote several books including commentaries on First and Second Corinthians, a guide for new Christians titled That Ye May Grow, and a booklet on the elder and his work.
Brother Jackson’s work as a debater was remarkable. He held sixteen debates on a variety of topics. In his last few years, I was privileged to hear some of these discussions. His debate with John L. Edwards “On the Meaning of Adultery,” was conducted in Austin, Texas January 25th-26th, 1988. Don Tarbet published the proceedings as The Jackson-Edwards Debate later that year. Edwards affirmed and Jackson denied the following proposition: “RESOLVED, the action of adultery in Matthew 19:9 is the action of divorcing and remarriage, and the parties remarried do not continue in adultery as long as they are together.” Brother Jackson also debated Baptists, Pentecostals, skeptics, and Atheists. The last debate he held was with a Baptist by the name of Bob Ross. The debate was conducted in a local school building, and I was privileged to attend. Brother Jackson’s demeanor was unflappable while Ross and his moderator became more and more perturbed as the debate progressed. Nevertheless, while brother Jackson strongly disagreed with his opponents, he was always the commensurate gentleman. After his death, Bob Ross wrote to the congregation to express his sympathy. He praised brother Jackson for the fact that he was a man of integrity and character who could disagree with you without being disagreeable. We would do well to emulate such a balance of qualities today that we may stand for truth, yet earn the respect of our enemies (Proverbs 16:7).
Brother Jackson kept a cross-stiched poem, “The Clock of Life,” written by Robert H. Smith, which is currently on display in his library.
The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power.
To tell just when the hands will stop,
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own,
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in tomorrow for
The clock may then be still.
Bill Jackson’s mortal clock stopped on April 5th, 1991, due to his heart problems; he was driving home when he passed. He was sixty-one years old. Brothers David P. Brown, and Ira Y. Rice, Jr., conducted the memorial services for brother Jackson after his passing. He was later eulogized in the June, 1991 issue of the Christian Worker by: Garland Elkins, Guy N. Woods, his son Barry Jackson, David P Brown, his brother Lloyd Jackson, Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Dub McClish, Jerry Moffitt, Ira Y. Rice, Jr., Paul Sain, and his secretary for many years, Midge Siebert. I was privileged to have known him in my most formative years, from the time I was thirteen to the time I was twenty-three. His preaching, teaching, life, and work, made an enormous impact upon me. I am thankful to have known him, and grateful to the Lord for sending him my way. I look forward to seeing him again in eternity.
Kevin Cauley is a teacher for the Southwest School of Bible Studies in Austin, Texas. He is a 1989 graduate of the Southwest School of Bible Studies, a 1994 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (B.A.), and 2010 graduate of St. Edwards University (M.L.A.). He is married and has four boys. He resides in Buda, Texas. He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.