Saturday, January 1, 2022

Tribute to my Friend, Randy Jackson

By Melinda Cohenour

May 18, 1946 - December 21, 2021

The grapevine was abuzz with news of a cute new guy in town. That had happened a couple of times before, of course. Usually, the new guy turned out to be a big disappointment. One New Guy heard about the buzz and decided to take advantage of it. He started asking out one girl after another. Each date was a one-time thing - worse yet followed quickly by this jerk's sarcastic comments. Pretty quickly that New Guy became Old News (and persona non grata!)

But this New Guy was very different. His name was Randy Jackson. His dad was a coach. And Randy was a really neat fellow. Good looking? Yes, but modest. Funny, kind, great sense of humor, and general all-around Good Guy. He was popular with the boys and girls. He played sports. He had a cool car. He had no pretentiousness about him. Randy and I became friends, too. Never dated but ran in the same social circle and often were at the same party or whooping it up at the Dingo (a cool drive-in owned by my boyfriend's dad), or even "tooling around" with other kids in his car.

A couple of years after Randy came to town, I became enamored with the Air Force serviceman who would become my husband and father of my kids. My time was completely wrapped up in his schedule. I left my innocent school days behind. That marriage was just before America became committed to the Vietnam fiasco called War. Soon after the birth of our first child, a boy, Johnny was deployed to Vietnam.

The war, long separation, awkward time of growing apart ... after seven years my marriage was over. By then I was living in Dallas and had become legal secretary, a paralegal in training to Bill Brice. Our most complex client was James K. Devlin, who claimed Brice as his mentor.

I mention this as my involvement with Jim Devlin would take me on a bit of a parallel path with my old friend Randy Jackson.

Devlin was a New Yorker, a Harvard graduate whose first job was as CEO of a company. He made snide remarks about Dallas as a town of good ole boys with zero appreciation of fine art and music. I countered by explaining he needed to explore the art and music native to Texas, including the new sounds emanating from Austin. I introduced Jim to Steve Fromholz and B. W. Stevenson, the Rubaiyat and Poor David's Pub, and many more cosmic cowboy artists. Soon Devlin, as was his nature, turned his interest in this "new" music into business. He would manage these artists, in return for publishing rights, and promote their careers. Devlin needed me to translate for him: suit-talk to Texas boot-scooter lingo. I had been drafted. So, for a crazy period of time, I took on the challenge. In addition to work for Brice at the law firm, I would fly to Austin, involve myself with Moonhill Management, oversee discussions with my musician pals ... now "proposed talent" and work with Devlin as he built a studio and turned it into Planet Dallas.

Meanwhile, my old friend from Monahans, Randy Jackson, had not only completed his bachelor's degree at Sul Ross but also gained his Master's in Education, engaged in his Doctoral Study at North Texas State in 1971-72, and become the Director of Admissions at Sul Ross from 1971-1974.

Randy made his big move in 1974, heading to Nashville and becoming the Tour Director for the Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn tour for the next two years. Taking on a similar role for the Alabama/Janie Fricke tour over the following two year period, brought him close to Janie who would become his first wife. Although they later divorced, they stayed friends. Randy was just that kind of guy.

For seven years, from 1980-1987, Randy managed Charley Pride, becoming the CEO of Pride Management Company. Charley remained a close friend and mentor of Randy's, and was a constant supporter until his death.

While Randy was working in Nashville and dedicating himself to Charley Pride, he was also moving in many of the same circles as I. We met many of the same folks such as Willie Nelson and his ex-wife Connie, among others. Randy was a big fan of my friend and lover Steve Fromholz. We would often reminisce about these folks and exchange funny stories.

One story that struck Randy's funny bone was when I told him about my friend Meredith Spencer Anderson who had recently accepted a position in one of Devlin's companies and moved to North Dallas. Spence told of coming home one day to find Charley Pride mowing his lawn. Puzzled (not to mention SHOCKED), Spence greeted him. Charley related the story of a lovely woman stopping her car by his home the day before. She yahooed, then complimented him on the great job he was doing, then quickly jotted her name and address on a card which she pressed into his hand saying, "I need a good gardener at my new home "

Charley, being Charley, toted his yard-working tools to Spencer's home and went to work!

Seems Randy had heard the story many years before ... From Charley himself.

So many great memories of Randy Jackson. However, Randy and I had become much closer over the past six or seven years. Many was the morning I would see a Chat pop up from Randy. I am an inveterate night owl. Randy, an early (sometimes EARLY) riser. We shared our liberal political beliefs.and would spend time discussing the latest wrinkle on the political scene. Sometimes Randy just wanted to reminisce about an old school chum or exchange news of one of our shared celebrity friends. Randy consoled me when news of the accidental death of Steve Fromholz was published.

Randy Jackson had a heart the size of Texas. He was named Mr. Sul Ross recently. (A tribute to Randy was published by Sul Ross as well, extolling the many gracious ways in which Randy and his beloved wife Sherry had bestowed their time, money, and efforts toward bettering the school itself and the students.) Randy, more than once, took personal time to mentor a student whose needs outweighed his means. I know of one young man who, I understand, actually lived for a time with Randy and Sherry. Randy wrote to me, "It was worth it...I got my first Father's Day card from him."

Randy also shared my heartache surrounding the loss of our good friend and schoolmate Rocky Armstead. Randy was eloquent in his praise of America's Vietnam vets. My husband Rod served and Randy wrote to me, " Please tell your husband I appreciate his service.. I know words are not enough .. but thoughts of that era are with me constantly...We all must protect our world ... we must do better...

Rod sent a message back, saying his service had been given gratefully for people like Randy...a good man and honorable.

Randy replied: "Few realize how much many of us suffered all these miles away... Not to compare the suffering by any means but it was suffering nonetheless...I would go see my mother...each night at the end of the news they would reveal the "death count" and tell where the major battles were...mother would quietly go to the kitchen where on the refrigerator she had a map with locations of my brother's last location...the pain of uncertainty is cruel and unending... I have been to the wall twice... both times it brought me to my knees... crippled me, left me unable to speak or move... The sheer magnitude of those names... All the mothers and fathers... Sisters and brothers that will never fully is the most humbling of experiences... Few realize... But... In the class of '65...we all went to Nam."

One early morning I got this message from Randy:

I’m sitting on my porch reading a book a poetry that my mother gave me 30 years ago… I’m sending this to you because I don’t know anyone else who might understand… I got to Kipling.. "IF".. wow.. took me to my knees..

“ if you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken… Twisted by natives to make a trap for fools…
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken… And stoop and build them again with worn out tools…

“ if you could force your heart and nerve and sinew..To serve your fight long after they’re gone…
And hold on when there’s nothing left in you… Except the wheel that screams… Hold on”

I truly hope that Mr. Kipling is aware that (one old) man is sitting on the porch in the middle of a beautiful ranch in Texas 130 years later… And he is humbled by what he wrote.

Randy had a way with words, and a quixotic outlook on life. He was gifted with the ability to express himself in a way that plucked one's heartstrings. Four of his songs were published while he was in Nashville. He continued to commit his thoughts and dreams to paper, writing poetry and jotting phrases and inspiration in a journal he kept.

In his words, "I have written poetry since fifth grade but the event that really stirred my soul was when Monahans classmate Richard Russell presented his interpretation of "Julias Ceasar"... Richard's passion opened an entire world of literature for me. I will always be grateful to him for that morning in Mr. Windsor's English Class.

"I have a friend who is an artist.. she paints beautiful pictures from words... i paint words from pictures... Most of the things I write were from personal experience... I have carried a journal for years.. I write down things that touch or inspire me... I once was walking and sat down under a beautiful oak tree... It came to me what all that tree had seen... so I wrote it down...In fact I am certain I heard the tree say...
"I thought I heard you say my friend
For I am not a human,
I'm just an old oak tree..
and so goes the story told me by the old oak.. for a few more lines...

Randy graciously offered two of his poems for publication in pencilstubs: The Old Oak Tree and To My Daughter

Needless to say, my heart was broken when I received word Randy Jackson, my sweet, kind, funny, talented, loyal, creative, wise and wonderful friend of sixty years, had passed beyond the veil.

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

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