Home > News > In Memoriam: M. Dennis Jackson

More News

Pearl Jammin'

Pearl Jammin'

Longtime staff member and alumna merges UD-honed love of travel, photography and music with new book celebrating Pearl Jam
 
Hall of Fame

Alumni Hall of Fame

The Department of English inducts four distinguished alumni at the inaugural Hall of Fame event.
 
Humanities in Medicine

Humanities in Medicine

Students applying to medical school need a strong science background, but a humanities major can be an asset
 
CONNECT
EMailTwitterInstagramFacebook

In Memoriam: M. Dennis Jackson

Image Picker for Section 0
Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

Alumni remember longtime journalism professor, a man who ‘changes the arc of who you are and can be’

M. Dennis Jackson

Known for his boundless enthusiasm and constant encouragement, M. Dennis Jackson was a professor of English and journalism from 1978 to​ 2007.

M. Dennis Jackson, retired professor of English and journalism who helped countless students discover their passion and purpose, died on Friday, May 10, 2024, from complications related to pneumonia. He was 78.

Known for his boundless enthusiasm and constant encouragement, Dr. Jackson worked at UD from 1978 to 2007, serving as journalism program director from 1995 to 2003 and longtime advisor to the student newspaper, The Review. He once relocated his office to the paper’s headquarters to be closer to the action.​

Dr. Jackson believed that “you learn journalism by doing journalism” and would leave full critiques of each edition for the student reporters, often with notes as thick as the paper itself.

He taught the power of persistence and quoted the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins: “sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine.” Dr. Jackson considered the description of rough earth transforming into something polished and beautiful an apt metaphor for writing. As he explained in his 2002 book with John Sweeny, The Journalist’s Craft: A Guide to Writing Better Stories: “Practice. Write. Analyze. Revise. More practice. More writing … until the words do indeed begin to shine.” ​

Or sing. That he learned from his former sports editor, Wayne Thompson, who’d hand some of his stories back with a critical observation, “Jackson, this [expletive] doesn’t sing.”

“And then I was left, as a 19-year-old novice sportswriter, to go back to my newsroom desk and figure out for myself WHY the [expletive] didn't sing, or WHERE it sang and then stopped singing, or WHERE it suddenly went from [expletive] to singing, etc.,” he recalled in an email in 2021. “I guess I did learn a lot, in those early days, having to discover for myself where my prose ‘sang’ and where it just gargled.”

With his ballpoint pen and southern twang, Dr. Jackson offered the same honest feedback to his students. He circled “to be” verbs on their stories, motivating them to seek stronger action words.

“On my first assignment, he ripped my work pretty darn good, but there was something about the way he did it that just made it click,” remembered Ted Spiker, a 1990 alumnus who now chairs the journalism program at the University of Florida. “He told inspiring stories about alumni and did it with a cocktail that was part charming, part sinister and always entertaining. There will never be another Dr. J.”

Dr. Jackson taught UD’s first sports writing class [English 367], according to Andy West, Class of 1986. “His feedback made the greatest impression on me — perhaps that’s why the E367 folder has remained in my filing cabinet for 40 years. He pushed me to do better work. He pushed us all to do better work. His care went beyond the classroom.”​​

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

​Dr. Jackson (back right) with students

​Dr. Jackson (back right) with students, alumni and faculty at a 2004 reception in his​ honor.

“His biggest topic of conversation was students, current and former,” said colleague and retired journalism professor Ben Yagoda. “To Dennis, they were rockstars.”

“He made 10 years of student loan payments worth every penny,” said Paul Davies, a 1986 graduate and co-author of Dr. Jackson’s decades-long, unfinished biography of journalist Chuck Stone.

“I came to UD with no idea of what I wanted to do. Then I walked into E307 [Introduction to Journalism], and he changed my life. The way he talked about the field lit up all these lights in my head,” said Davies, now an editorial writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Journalism’s tough, and it’s gotten tougher. But he kept you inspired.”

“His infectiously upbeat attitude sustained many weary students over the years,” added Eric Ruth, Class of 1993. “He was kind enough to invite me to his house to meet a semi-famous novelist [Richard Price], which did wonders for my sense of excitement.”

“He was on call for his students, 24/7,” said 1996 alumnus Devin Harner, who recalls their hours-long conversations. Legend has it that Dr. Jackson once met a student for breakfast, and the two remained chatting at the restaurant through lunch and dinner.

“He was more than a mentor; he was a constant guide and sounding board,” said 1995 alumnus Mark Nardone. “His letters of recommendation were unbelievable. It didn’t matter how many times he was asked. He always wrote something professional and heartfelt.”

Dr. Jackson had a “superpower to see each person’s talents and interests,” said Lina Hashem, Class of 2000. She recalls applying for an internship for minority students at a newspaper that questioned her religion. As one of few Muslim women in the field, she “felt like one,” but it was Dr. Jackson who advocated on her behalf, helping her secure the job. “He never imposed his opinions on other people’s lived experiences,” she said. “He listened and lifted you up wherever you were.”

“He provided a voice of affirmation,” said Rich Jones, a 1993 graduate and managing editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer’s opinion section. “When you come from a low-income background and are one of the few African American students in the class, you can feel like you don’t fit in. He made me feel like I belonged. Like I had talent. He was someone who changes the arc of who you are and what you can be.”

Heather Hansen, Class of 1996, transferred to UD after her sister’s unexpected death. “Dr. J found me in a place where I was lost and rudderless, and he taught me my purpose,” she said.​​

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

Dr. Jackson

​A “big kid,” Dr. Jackson delighted in ​whimsy.

Dr. Jackson saved his students’ classwork long after they graduated and followed each one’s career. He bought all their published works, adding to his envious collection of 10,000-plus books.

“We lost touch,” said Laura Carney, Class of 2003. “And yet there he was, first in line to leave an Amazon review of my book the day after it came out. He mocked my 13-page acknowledgments (hilarious given his verbosity), then said he predicted a best-seller. I can't put into words what this meant to me, his vote of confidence after so many years.”

Fellow Professor Kevin Kerrane remembers an argument he once had with Dr. Jackson for referring to his students as kids. “I said, ‘They are young adults preparing for a serious profession.’ Dennis said, ‘I know, I know,’ and I realized that he was just a big kid himself. He had that kind of overflowing energy.”

Dr. Jackson’s wife, Anne Whitney, agreed, adding that “he loved whimsy and was delighted by things.” Their home included a massive toy collection: Santas in hula skirts, a dog dressed as Elvis, singing chihuahuas.

But his true love was his students. With no biological children of his own, she said, they were “his kids, his family.”

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

​Dr. Jackson and wife, Anne Whitney

​Dr. Jackson and wife, Anne Whitney, represent Delaware in Vero Beach​, Florida

About Dennis Jackson

Marvin Dennis Jackson was born on June 30, 1945, in Jackson, Mississippi, to Roy Dennis and Margie Emma (Cade) Jackson.

A top math student in high school, he switched his interests to literature at Belhaven College under the guidance of his favorite professor, Bill Durrett, eventually earning master’s and doctoral degrees in English from the University of Arkansas.

From 1979-1986, he served as secretary, treasurer and president of the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America, where he received the Harry T. Moore Distinguished Scholar Award for Lifetime Achievement in D.H. Lawrence Studies. He also served as Jeopardy!’s resident expert on the English novelist.

Dr. Jackson’s awards included the National Teaching Award from the Poynter Institute and an award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing and Editing from the Modern Media Institute and American Society of Newspaper Editors.

He spent decades working to convey the significance of Charles Sumner Stone Jr., with two bedrooms, four closets and 17 file cabinets full of documents on the Tuskegee Airman, inaugural president of the National Association of Black Journalists (of which Dr. Jackson became a member), journalist and late UD professor.

Friend and alumnus Paul Davies, co-author of the unfinished biography, called Dr. Jackson “a true academic, always chasing one more file or detail.”

After retiring, he married artist Anne Whitney and moved to Vero Beach, Florida, where they lived with their beloved pets, Tigger, the Pomeranian dog, and cats Popcorn, Maggie and Ekaterina (named after the Russian ice skater; known as Katie, for short).

“He missed Delaware, missed his friends and missed the seasons,” said longtime friend and former assistant to the chair of the English department Linda Russell, who would often sit with a notebook and pen to keep track of Dr. Jackson’s many stories — including his brief stint as an Arkansas circuit minister.

She can still picture his tattoo, a phoenix on his bicep, a reminder of the many illnesses he overcame: chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, pulmonary fibrosis, open-heart surgery.

His final hours were spent in hospice, in a beautiful room with a private garden, screened-in porch and French doors that opened to bushes filled with butterflies and chirping birds.

Though his last words are unknown, friends and alumni may like to imagine they were among his most used: “Okay, I’ll let you go. I just have to tell you one more thing.”

Tributes in Dr. Jackson’s memory can be made by searching for the journalism program and noting his name in the special instruction box.

A celebration of Dr. Jackson’s life will be held on his birthday, June 30, at 12 p.m. in Memorial Hall, with a less formal gathering off campus to follow. More details will be shared on The Review alumni Facebook page or by contacting Devin Harner at dharner@jjay.cuny.edu.​

Article by Artika Casini

Photos courtesy of Linda Russell

June 04, 2024

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Image Rendition

Change the way the image is cropped for this page layout.

Media Size

Cycle through size options for this image or video.

Original
50%
66%
100%
Fixed Portrait 1
Fixed Portrait 2
Cancel
Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Insert Image

Open the image pane in this body section. Click in the image pane to select an image from the image library.

Insert Video

Open the video pane in this body section. Click in the video pane to embed a video. Click ? for step-by-step instructions.

Remove Image

Remove the image from the media panel. This does not delete the image from the library.

Remove Video

Remove the video from the media panel.

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Move Down

Move this whole section down, swapping places with the section below it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

Move Up

Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.

Code Cleaner

Check for and fix problems in the body text. Text pasted in from other sources may contain malformed HTML which the code cleaner will remove.

Accordion is OFF

Accordion feature turned off, click to turn on.

Accordion is ON

Accordion featurd turned on, click to turn off.

Media Right/Left-Align

Align the media panel to the right/left in this section.

News Story Supporting Images and Text
Used in the Home Page News Listing and for the News Rollup Page
Alumni remember longtime journalism professor, a man who ‘changes the arc of who you are and can be’
English
 
6/4/2024
No
Page Settings and MetaData:
(Not Shown on the Page)
Page Settings
In Memoriam: M. Dennis Jackson
No
 
 
MetaData for Search Engine Optimization
In Memoriam: M. Dennis Jackson