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Fishing and hunting.
These are the new priorities of Richard L. “Dickie” Jackson, who retired at the end of December after eight years as Wilson County judge.
But his public service didn’t start there.
Jackson, who grew up in Stockdale, had previously served as county Pct. 4 justice of the peace for 12 years. Prior to that, he was a deputy with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, serving under Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. — the longest-serving sheriff in county history.
“I’d never have thought I’d be in this position,” Jackson said in late December, looking around the office in the Wilson County Courthouse in downtown Floresville that he’d occupied for two terms. “I’m going to miss it. And I’m going to miss the people.”
He’s proud of what’s been accomplished as he served as the county’s “chief executive.” He was elected in November 2014 and took office Jan. 1, 2015. But this role wasn’t something Jackson aimed for.
He’s been a hard worker since his youth, landing his first job when he was only 12.
“I started at Cooper’s Grocery Store,” the retired judge recalled. His brother already worked at the now-defunct store in Stockdale, as did Jackson’s buddy, Jim Cooper. It was Jim’s dad who saw Jackson’s potential, and asked his dad if the boy could go to work for him.
“I worked there for the next six years,” Jackson said, adding that his job never was allowed to interfere with his studies.
After graduation, he worked in construction, along with jobs in the oilfield and refining. It was while he was employed in a live-in role on a ranch near Brady that he heard of a job with Wilson County, during a visit by his brother-in-law.
“He said I’d make a good deputy, and that the sheriff was hiring five individuals,” Jackson remembered. Tackitt, receiving a recommendation for Jackson, got approval from the Wilson County commissioners to hire him, although Jackson had yet to certify as a peace officer.
Then-Commissioner Albert Pruski commended Jackson to the other commissioners. “He’s a people person,” Pruski said.
“That helped,” Jackson recalled.
That led him into public service in the county where he grew up and, ultimately, to succeeding Marvin Quinney as county judge.
While serving the citizens of Wilson County, Jackson has seen a number of changes.
“Population growth!” has been the biggest, he said. “It’s been crazy, and doesn’t seem to be slowing.
“That’s going to be an obstacle for the new commissioners court, with the State Legislature limiting our revenue to provide services to people,” he observed. In addition to Jackson retiring as county judge, two long-serving members of the Wilson County Commissioners Court also retired in December — Larry Wiley from Pct. 4, and Paul Pfeil in Pct. 2.
He’s very proud of the accomplishments of the commissioners under his leadership, in particular for their handling in 2021 of redistricting county precincts in the wake of the 2020 Census results.
“It was strictly business,” Jackson shared. “They straightened a lot of things out, and went by property lines to define precinct boundaries. … They didn’t bicker or argue, just looked at the best way to address it.”
The restoration of the only Alfred Giles-designed historic courthouse still serving its original function — a project Jackson inherited and which came in on budget — is another thing he claims as a success.
“It affords people to see their historic courthouse in operation 138 years later!” he stated with pride. The $8.5 million project started in 2013; the courthouse reopened in December 2015.
He’s also proud of how the commissioners and county handled the prospect of purchasing the former Wilson County Show Barn. (See “County approves show barn purchase,” Aug. 30, 2018 Wilson County News.) Jackson cast the deciding vote, which was split 2-2.
“I’m glad we did it,” the former judge said. “It was a game-saver during COVID. We used it for administering vaccines and testing, and for food distribution. We’d have struggled otherwise, to find and pay for a facility for those things.”
Speaking of the pandemic, “We’re still not back to ‘normal,’” said the judge, who declared a public health emergency in Wilson County in March 2020, as the pandemic shut down public life around the globe. “But we made it through COVID.”
There are things he wished he could have accomplished as county judge, such as establishing a county court-at-law.
“But it takes revenue to create it,” Jackson said. “And you have to find office space, and payroll, etc. We couldn’t justify taking funds from other things.”
A unit road system was another wish.
Wilson County, he said, is getting big enough that it could benefit from such a prospect, in which the county hires someone to oversee the roads, and funds are diverted from individual precincts into a road fund, and roads are prioritized for maintenance and improvements.
But this takes resources, and citizens would need to petition the county and vote to support it.
“It’s worked for other counties,” Jackson said, sharing that as judge, he’s looked at every county for best practices, and tried to model those, along with good leadership.
But the time has come, he said, to let someone else take the reins.
“I want to retire while I still have the health to do things with my wife, Valerie, like travel, that we’ve put off because we’ve been working.”
Jackson plans to work cattle with his cousin on his property near Stockdale. He’ll be able to be more involved again with the South Central Texas Independent Cattlemen’s Association, which he served as president a few years ago.
“I want to be sure it stays successful,” Jackson said.
Along with traveling with Valerie, the judge also has plans for a hunting trip in January, and fishing trips with former Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Jim Burdette.
“And I’d like to be more involved in working for the betterment of our communities,” he said.
Jackson offers Hank Whitman his best wishes as he assumes the role of Wilson County judge.
“He’s very intelligent, and has a lot of common sense,” Jackson observed. “He’s very well qualified, and he’ll do well.”
As he leaves office, Jackson reflected on his service to the county through the years.
He said he’d like to be remembered as being honest and fair.
“I tried to do what I thought was right for the county,” he affirmed.
“I never wanted to do anything to embarrass my family or friends,” he said. “I wanted them to be proud of me, to follow their example.
“I think I have,” he nodded thoughtfully. “I hope they’re as proud of me as I am of them.”
New judge comments
Hank Whitman, sworn in Jan. 1 as the new Wilson County judge, expressed gratitude and admiration for his predecessor, Judge Richard L. “Dickie” Jackson, as he steps back from public life.
“I am grateful to Judge Jackson to have allowed me to observe him in his administrative and probate hearings,” former Texas Rangers chief Whitman told the Wilson County News. He also observed Jackson presiding over some criminal hearings. “That has allowed me insight on how difficult this job can be for a county judge. I also admire the way he handles himself in a courtroom and the thoughtful manner he addresses those that come before him in his court.”
Whitman hopes to build on the issues that were important to Jackson and the county commissioners.
“We both agreed that anyone that takes on this important job must have the citizens of this county at the forefront,” the new county judge observed.
Jackson, he said, leaves behind a long legacy of public service, which is something to be very proud of.
“My wish for him now is that he takes advantage of every moment he can to travel, relax, and reflect on his noteworthy public service to Wilson County,” Whitman concluded.