In Memory of Coach Oliver Jackson 1920-2007

ABILENE, Texas -- J. Oliver Jackson, a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame who coached track and field athletes from Abilene Christian University who set or tied 15 world records and won four gold medals in the Olympic Games, died Wednesday at 87 years of age.


A family burial will be followed by a memorial service at 1 p.m. Saturday at Highland Church of Christ, 425 Highland, under the direction of Hamil Family Funeral Home of Abilene. Family visitation will be Friday from 6-8 p.m. at the funeral home, 6449 Buffalo Gap Road in Abilene.


While Jackson directed Wildcat track and field for 16 years (1948-63), Abilene Christian fielded one of the top collegiate teams in the nation.   The Wildcats under Jackson won 78 titles at the Texas, Kansas and Drake Relays, and his athletes also set or tied 17 American records and 15 national collegiate records.


He developed three U.S. Olympic team members -- sprinter Bobby Morrow, who won three gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400-meter relay in 1956 in Melbourne; quartermiler Earl Young, who won a gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay in 1960 in Rome; and Billy Pemelton, who placed eighth in the pole vault in 1964 in Tokyo.


Jackson was president of the U.S. Track and Field Coaches Association, member of the NCAA Track and Field Rules Committee, referee of eight NCAA Division I indoor and outdoor track and field national championship meets, and referee of the Texas high school state track and field championships for the University Interscholastic League.


"With the passing of Oliver Jackson, we have lost one of our legends," ACU president Dr. Royce Money said.   "Coach Jackson was one of the most beloved and revered figures in our university's history because of his strong faith, his care for his student-athletes and his love of Abilene Christian."


He was one of the true giants in track and field coaching circles, and it was his coaching that helped Bobby Morrow achieve immortality at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia," Money said.   "We will all miss Coach Jackson, but ACU will continue to benefit from what he helped build for generations to come."


In 1959 Sports Illustrated magazine called Jackson "probably the best relay coach in the United States."   Bert Nelson, former publisher of Track and Field News, in 1958 called Jackson "the producer of outstanding athletes ... and outstanding men, too."


Jackson's survivors include his wife, Bridget Marie (Biddie) Rowland Jackson, of Abilene, and three daughters and their husbands, Sara Brumit of Hutto, Rolanda Fulham and husband Paul of Abilene, and Lola Barnes and husband Terry of Comanche.


His survivors also include grandchildren Wes Anderson of Hutto, Blaine Anderson of Arlington, Paul David Fulham, III and his wife Lindsey of Houston, Jackson Fulham of Plano, Bridget and Zane Barnes of Comanche and Lubbock and great-grandson Karsen Macias of Arlington.   Several nieces and nephews also survive Coach Jackson.


Born in Denison, Texas on July 17, 1920 to O.I. and Jo Moore Jackson, he was the eighth of nine children.    Preceding Jackson in death are his parents and siblings. 


Jackson was a member of Highland Church of Christ in Abilene and earlier served as a deacon at College (University) Church of Christ in Abilene and an elder for the University Avenue Church of Christ in Austin.  


After his coaching career ended in 1963, he served 20 years as senior vice president and director of Marketing for American Founders Life Insurance Co. in Austin after managing its agency in Lubbock. While in Austin he served as President of the University Kiwanis Club and was a referee for the Texas Relays for twenty years.


Jackson served on the Board of Trustees for Abilene Christian from (1974-90) until his promotion to the Senior Board, and he also was an officer of the university's National Development Council.  In 1960 Abilene Christian named Jackson the winner of its award for Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, the first active faculty member to receive such an honor.


He was a member of seven Halls of Fame including Abilene Christian, U.S. Track and Field Coaches Association, Drake Relays, and the NAIA.

In 1978, he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Dallas with five others, including Tom Landry, the late coach of the Dallas Cowboys.


Jackson served as meet director for the 1960 U.S. Olympic track and field trials for women in Abilene and the first NAIA track and field championships in Abilene in 1952.  His Wildcat teams won NAIA national collegiate titles in 1952, 1954 and 1955.


The U.S. Department of State named Jackson a goodwill ambassador in 1958 for a six-week tour of 17 countries in Central and South America to lecture on track and field, and in 1961 Jackson coached the U.S. national relay teams for dual meets in Moscow, Stuttgart, London and Warsaw.


A football and track and field letterman in college at Abilene Christian, Jackson was honored by Sports Illustrated in 1966 as a member of its Silver Anniversary all-America football team.


Jackson was a popular speaker and international lecturer at coaches clinics, awards programs, banquets, workshops, and youth and church events.  He lectured at the first international track and field coaches clinic in Berkeley, Calif., in 1956 and was a frequent speaker at meetings of the Texas High School Coaches Association.


He wrote a chapter in the 1961 Prentice-Hall book "Championship Track and Field by 12 Great Coaches" and many other articles on track and field for national publications.


Jackson, a 1938 graduate of Denison High School, played basketball and football.   He won the Texas high school state championship in the long jump as a senior in track and field.  He was inducted into the Denison High School Hall of Fame in 2002.


He attended University of North Texas and Oklahoma Baptist University before enrolling at Abilene Christian, where he played running back for the football team and competed in the sprints and 440 in track and field.


He was a member of the Class of 1942 at ACU, but his graduation was delayed until 1946 (Bachelor of Science degree in education) because of four years of service (1942-45) in World War II.   Entering military service in January 1942 in Lubbock, he served as a USAF captain and as a combat intelligence and executive officer of the 321st Bombardment Group in the 12th Air Force in Africa, Sicily, Italy, Corsica and France.


He also received a Master of Education degree from University of North Texas in 1953.   Jackson served on many national boards and was a Life Member of the Old Guard. 


Jackson and Biddie Rowland, a 1939 graduate of Denison High School, were married Dec. 14, 1944, in Denison and were married 63 years prior to his death.


In 1946 the 26-year-old Jackson was hired by the late A.M. (Tonto) Coleman to join the staff at Abilene Christian as assistant coach for football and track and field.   Jackson coached the offensive line for the Wildcat football team until 1955.  He coached four players who were named all-America, and he was a coach for the 1950 team that finished 11-0.   It was the only undefeated collegiate team in the nation that season and Abilene Christian's only undefeated, untied team in its history.


Jackson was named head coach for ACU track and field in 1948 and served 16 years until 1963.  He presided over the Wildcats' move from the college division to the university division in track and field.


In addition to the three U.S. Olympians, he also coached national team members James Segrest, who ran for the U.S. on the winning 400-meter relay team at the first USA-USSR dual meet in Moscow in 1958, and Bill Woodhouse, who won a gold medal at the Pan American Games in 1959 in Chicago in the 400-meter relay.


He also served as a coach for the U.S. team on its pre-Olympic tour in 1964.


His 1953 team at Abilene Christian scored a remarkable "triple crown" by sweeping the 440, 880 and mile relays at the Texas, Kansas and Drake Relays.   His teams also won titles at the California Relays, Penn Relays, West Coast Relays and Coliseum Relays.


Morrow was perhaps Jackson's most well-known pupil, but Morrow was always quick to give credit to Jackson.


"Without this man," he has said, "three gold medals would not have been possible.   He is the greatest track coach in the world."


When Jackson was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Dec. 29, 1978, in Dallas, Morrow called his coach, "the co-holder of three gold medals."   He added, "I've received a lot of high honors in my life, but this is the greatest, inducting Oliver Jackson into the Hall of Fame.  We've traveled many miles together, we've shared wins, and we've also shared some losses.   He wasn't only a coach, but a friend.  He was concerned with how you participated on the track, but he was more concerned with how you conducted yourself off the track."


Jackson was the first chairman of NAIA track and field and directed the organization's first four national meets in Abilene in 1952-55.  His Wildcat team finished first or second at the first six NAIA national meets in 1952-57 before achieving membership in NCAA Division I in track and field in 1957.


In 1966, when Sports Illustrated named Jackson to its Silver Anniversary all-America team honoring college football players from his senior season of 1941, the magazine said, "Jackson has truly been a pioneer in the growth and popularity of track and field in Texas and the nation, an important phase of physical education for the nation's youth."


Story by Garner Roberts & Lance Fleming
Director of Sports Information
Abilene Christian University

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