Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Decatur City Council President Billy Jackson and his mom, Bettye Jackson, swap stories of his youth. Billy attributes his involvement in city government to his upbringing.
Mom of Decatur City Council president earns it with her good example, advice, discipline, hard-working nature
By Patrice Stewart
She’s feisty, outspoken, inquisitive and sharp.
Those characteristics make Bettye Jackson the perfect mother to rear a Decatur City Council president, plus two firefighters, a teacher and an undertaker.
When you sit for a chat with her and son Billy Jackson at the table where the family has gathered for more than 50 years, it’s obvious where he got some of the traits he uses in conducting City Council business.
She has passed on some wisdom gleaned from her grandparents and parents and added plenty of advice of her own — some of it learned while living through the civil rights movement and school integration and bringing up five children.
“I was born in Decatur, raised in Decatur, educated in Decatur and mistreated in Decatur,” said this woman who recalls walking past Decatur’s high school for whites to get to Decatur Negro High, an old Army barracks building that was often too cold for classes.
Billy knows his 73-year-old mother has had life experiences that apply to most situations, so he’ll call her to run an idea by her.
“And he calls any time he wants my opinion — it might be 2 a.m.,” she said.
“I’ve always had the luxury of coming here and asking my parents’ advice,” said Billy.
They both still deeply miss the input of their husband and father, Lorenzo Jackson Sr., a retired school principal who died three years ago after 53 years of marriage.
Billy attributes his involvement in city government to his upbringing.
“My brothers and sister and I were all raised to feel we had a responsibility to the community,” he said. “Political decisions impact people, and those decisions come from the person you were raised to be.”
The main lesson his mother and father taught them, he said, “was to treat everybody the same way, and respect others as you want to be respected. When you do that, I think it carries over into every other aspect of your life.”
His parents did a good job with them, he said, “and the way you know that is when you want to instill those same things in your kids.”
He and his wife, Teddi, have a 14-year-old son, William “Bullett,” and an 11-year-old daughter, Eria, called “Bettye” after her grandmother.
He said his parents were strict disciplinarians.
“I got more whuppings than anybody in the family, and there were no time-outs,” Billy recalled.
His three older siblings were at least six years ahead of him and stuck together.
His mother says he needed those whippings almost daily, while she could only recall one time the older three got whippings.
“They weren’t as bad as Billy, who wouldn’t even get ready to go to school,” she said.
“Billy argued all the time,” she recalled, and talked back, too. One time he’d lost all his shirts and didn’t have any to wear. He would take them off on a basketball court or at a friend’s house and leave them behind.
“I told him everybody but him had a shirt to wear,” she said, and she remembers his answer: “You don’t even know everybody.” But she knew enough to punish him for that.
Today, however, as the grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of three, she takes up for the youngsters.
“He’s kind of tough on them for some things,” she said, when Billy complained about son Bullett losing his $500 drum the family purchased when he was in the band.
With others, however, it may be a different story. His mother can “get raw” when people try to step on her, Billy said.
“She’s a fighter, and she doesn’t back down.”
Her version: “I don’t do something just because somebody else does — and I think that’s the way Billy is, too. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
She recalled that she used to tell her children that “as long as I think you’re right, I will support you until hell freezes over, and then get ice skates.”
Her husband wanted them all to study education at Alabama A&M University, his alma mater. They all attended at some point, “and A&M got plenty of our money,” she said. Most attended St. Ann Catholic School in their elementary years.
“I raised them to believe they weren’t any different from anybody else,” she said.
Bettye, who attended A&M for a while, was one of the first school traffic guards in 1956 and also worked in bookkeeping at Meadow Gold Dairies.
She spent most of her career with BellSouth and retired as a long-distance operator 10 years ago.
“She’s worked hard in this community and for her family,” Billy said. “She constantly says after one project that’s she not working on any more projects, and then the next week there’s something new.”
He remembers the time she arranged her schedule so she could drive a kidney patient to Birmingham two or three times a week.
“That was typical of her, and it was no different at home. She made sure we had the things we needed — not what we wanted, but what we needed — for school and to become productive citizens in this community,” Billy said.
“Whatever the situation, whether it’s politics or everyday life, she’s going at 110 percent all the time, and she doesn’t do anything half-heartedly.”
After son Henry, a licensed embalmer who had worked at Reynolds Funeral Home for years, bought the funeral home in Town Creek two years ago, his mother agreed to be the receptionist there several days a week.
“She has made me who I am today,” he said. “And she says she wouldn’t work in a funeral home for anybody else.”
‘I squall, they haul’
His mother said she has cut back on some other activities, but you’ll spot her at Macedonia Presbyterian Church and at District 1 community meetings.
All her children stay in close touch and drop by to help with chores, and granddaughter Nora Douglas comes by to see her every day after work.
The matriarch of the family long ago figured out which one to call for what.
“Whenever I squall, they haul,” she said.
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