Voting is part of Derrick Jackson’s job as the state representative for District 64, which includes parts of Fayette County. Unfortunately, the one thing he would love to vote out of existence will never come to a vote in the Georgia House of Representatives.
“If I could eradicate cancer,” Derrick says wistfully, “Every form of cancer.”
Jackson lost his wife, Michelle, to metastatic breast cancer in May. Describing her as the love of his life, his eyes scan the pictures that adorn the walls of his cramped office in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building adjacent to the Georgia State Capitol. They chronicle the couple’s life together and the combined service of almost 50 years as Navy officers. Michelle was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
“God blessed me with 31 years with Michelle,” Derrick says.
Caring for Michelle through her cancer journey is one thing that influenced Derrick’s entry into politics. A 10-year stint in the corporate world followed his retirement from the Navy, but when Michelle became ill, he took time off from work to care for her and never returned.
Noting that not everyone had the great healthcare he and Michelle had through the military, he says, “God put me in the right place to hear the stories of other families. Something needed to be done to help mitigate the traumatic experiences citizens were dealing with around healthcare. I realized I could make a difference.”
A Syracuse, New York, native with deep family roots in Georgia, Derrick has lived in Tyrone since 2004 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor twice. He chuckles remembering Michelle’s reaction when he decided to run for the state office to which he was elected in 2016. Speaking in her Naval officer voice, she said, “Mr. Jackson, this is your third time running. If you and God don’t get it this time, then politics is not for you.”
Derrick says understanding his blessings and staying busy have helped him cope with the loss of Michelle.
“Every day, I wake up with my family on my mind. I’ve got to be there for my three daughters and my grandson.”
The Jacksons' oldest daughter, Taylor, is a medical student at Meharry College in Nashville. Their middle daughter, Tamera, a junior in college, and her son, Carter David Jackson, and Trinity, a Sandy Creek High School sophomore, still live at home.
“They had an amazing mom,” Derrick says. “They are her spirit.”
When the legislature isn’t in session, Derrick has plenty of non-legislative duties to keep him busy including giving eulogies, helping kids at risk for losing HOPE scholarships, staying in touch with constituents through various meetings and town halls, and thinking about the needs of his district.
Although he says Fayette County is a great place to retire with a superior school system, he’d like to see it become a great place for everyone, particularly by attracting millennials through tech-centric jobs and affordable housing.
Derrick may never have the power to vote cancer out of existence, but he is doing something that Michelle encouraged him to do—finish his Ph.D. in public policy. He had put his studies on hold, despite Michelle’s protests, to focus on her during the last year of her life.
“I had to give her 100%,” he says.
Derrick smiles as he remembers what she told him: “Mr. Jackson, you need to finish!”