To South Los Angeles, E.J. Jackson was more than a business owner. He was a hero.
The founder and president of Jackson Limousine Service was known far and wide for his annual turkey grocery giveaway, which for more than 30 years has provided Thanksgiving dinners to thousands of individuals and families.
The event, which attracts hundreds of volunteers, including celebrities and local politicians, will go on as planned this year. But its driving force will not be there.
Jackson died Tuesday of a heart attack, family members said. He was 66.
He was remembered as a generous man and a role model who sought to improve his community and help those who were down on their luck during the holidays and throughout the year.
"It's a personal loss for me. It's certainly a community loss, because E.J. Jackson was one of the kindest, most generous human beings that I've ever met in my life," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said during a news conference Wednesday at the Jackson family business. "E.J. worked very hard to be of assistance to families, to children, and even though we are all focused on the Thanksgiving giveaway, he was doing this all year."
Known for more than his limousine business, and even more than his annual turkey giveaway, Jackson was considered a role model in an often-neglected community. His impact and generosity were wide-reaching, family and community leaders said.
He traveled on a regular basis to homeless encampments in South L.A. to provide food and water. He helped family friends pay their bills. To combat the violence that permeated his neighborhood in the 1990s, Jackson met with gang leaders to find ways to coexist. He supported and umpired games for the Ladera Little League. Jackson also hired community members who had trouble finding work.
"He was an aspirational person who believed in giving community members a second chance," said Najee Ali, a community activist. "That sometimes gets lost. His charity work overshadowed that effort. He hired from the community and gave many people employment who couldn't get [employed] elsewhere."
Before he achieved success as a business owner, Jackson was a homeless student in South Los Angeles. He attended Manual Arts High School, was an all-city linebacker and played football for Cal State Long Beach. After an injury, he returned to South L.A. and noticed a void. Limousines and other luxury cars refused to serve families in his largely black community, so he bought his own car.
He started Jackson Limousine Service and the business grew swiftly. One car became two, then 10, then dozens.
Through a childhood friend who worked for the record company Motown, Jackson began catering to many celebrities.
"Some people put family first. My dad put business first," Monye Jackson, Jackson's son, said. "To my dad, the community was family."
In 1982, Jackson began giving away turkey dinners in the community. He created the E.J. Jackson Foundation in 2004 to serve more families in need.
"I think he thought he was invincible," Randi Jackson said of her father, "that he would live forever."
Funeral services are pending.