Dr. Russell T. Jackson (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Russell T. Jackson, a noted physician at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center for many years, made his transition to his heavenly home on Christmas Day, 2023. Russell and his wife, Dierdre Downing-Jackson, relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida a few years ago.

A Celebration of Life to honor him and his significant contributions will be held on Saturday, January 20, at 1 p.m. at Greater Mt. Zion AME Church, 1045 16th Street South in St. Petersburg 33705.  The services will be live streamed at https://greatermtzioname.org/

Born July 3, 1935 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Russell Thomas Jackson was the second of three sons born to Russell and Rosita Jackson. Like his big brother, Robert and little brother, Kenneth, he grew up in a household devoted to molding them into good men.  Bright, energetic and full of passion, Russell knew by the time he was in the fifth grade that “he was going to be a doctor” and his path never wavered.

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After years of study and hard work, little Russell Jackson grew up to become one of the nation’s most trusted and dedicated anesthesiologists.  He would hold positions of leadership in some of the most notable care facilities and professional organizations in the United States. His stellar standards of professional excellence and unique approaches to problem solving would be a matter of record during his multi-decade career as a trusted physician, hospital department head and trainer of future health care professionals.

Jackson graduated from Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, where he majored in Chemistry and Zoology.  He received his Medical Degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee and held licensures in New Jersey, Georgia and California. He was the first African American to intern at Atlantic City Hospital and the first African American in the residency program in Anesthesia at the UCLA-Harbor Medical Centre.

In service to his country, Dr. Jackson joined the staff at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, where he held the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He trained residents and medical students, was attached to the 3rd Marine Division-Medical Company C as the Executive Officer, and was responsible for overseeing the opening of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units in Phu Bai and Chu Lai, Vietnam.

Most of his professional career was based in Los Angeles, where he was Attending Staff Physician in the Department of Anesthesia of Cedar-Sinai Medical Center for nearly four decades. He also headed the Anesthesia Departments of University Hospital, West Adams Hospital and David Brotman Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles. As Clinical Instructor of Anesthesiology, he trained future doctors at Charles Drew Medical School, Martin Luther King General Hospital, and UCLA Medical Center. He served on the Board of Directors of the Center for International Leadership in Washington, DC, and was often called upon as an expert witness on health matters in state and national legislatures.  The State of Israel honored him with the David Ben Gurion Award for his lifetime contributions to medicine.

For all of his professional accomplishments, Russell Jackson was a passionately devoted family man, a loving husband, attentive father, dependable counselor and loyal friend.  Two beautiful children were born of his early marriage to Rosina Langford.  And for the rest of his life, Russell II and Traci filled his heart with a father’s pride as he showered them with love. According to Traci, “Dad was not a conventional Dad, but I was always so confident of his love.”

In 1989, he married Dierdre Downing and for the next 35 years, their personal love story and the energy, joy, passion and guidance they shared with others was legendary. Jackson was a second father to her little son, Perry and helped the village shape him into a man. A third, adopted son, Steve rounded out their beautifully blended family. Ten grandchildren later, Jackson’s family continues to blossom in love.

Russell Jackson deeply loved his family, his friends, his life. He was a true people person, who thoroughly enjoyed a good time, good music, a good game, a good meal and a good joke. A consummate chef, he created many a happy memory for those blessed with an opportunity to sit at his well-prepared table for one of his delicious meals of fried turkey, puttanesca pasta, mussels in wine sauce or oysters Tony. He enjoyed sitting in on a set with his father-in law, prominent jazz pianist, Al Downing. He eagerly looked forward to his time on the golf course, international travel, a great party with the Guardsmen, a reunion with his elementary schoolmates-The Ramblers and 49ers, good fellowship with his Alpha Phi Alpha brothers and any time spent having fun with his loved ones.

Despite the stresses and challenges of life and his wearing work in the arena of sickness and death, Russell Jackson’s spiritual walk showed in his life.  He was an active member of First AME, the oldest church founded by African Americans in Los Angeles.  And when he and Dierdre retired to St. Petersburg, they soon found a warm and welcoming church home at Greater Mt. Zion AME Church.

His long roster of celebrity patients included the likes of Quincy Jones, Ed McMahon, Lionel Richey, Carmen McRae, Toni Braxton, Eloise Laws, Bishop Charles E. Blake, the Whispers, Lola Falana, Jayne Kennedy, Sugar Ray Leonard, the Raiders and the Lakers. Though they did not hesitate to give Dr. Jackson credit for guiding them through serious health challenges, Dr. J always acknowledged that ” I put you to sleep, but God woke you up”.

As in every life, there were valleys, right along with the mountain tops, but throughout his

88 years, Russell Jackson kept the faith.  He was a man who took his responsibility as a citizen of both heaven and earth seriously.  His favorite scripture, Luke 12:48, was reflected in his work and life choices, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”

Jackson had a lifelong, active interest in the well-being of our nation’s young people. He was on the Board of Directors of the International Child Abuse Foundation.  As President of his own foundation, Romonk, Inc., his mission was to help young adults, especially those interested in medical careers, gain admission to and financial assistance for colleges, universities and graduate schools. He served as textbook consultant and career guidance counselor for the California Department of Education. He was personally responsible for training thousands of young doctors, nurses and other health care professionals over the years.

Russell Jackson was the first African American to serve as president of both the Los Angeles County Society of Anesthesiologists and the nation’s largest anesthesia society, the California Society of Anesthesiologists. During his tenure, he shepherded the programs and activities of nearly 3000 anesthesiologists. Under his leadership, the National Medical Association increased anesthesiologist participation by 900%. He was called on to be Keynote Speaker of the African American Male Conference in Atlantic City and as Commencement Speaker for the Department of Anesthesia at Martin Luther King General Hospital, Los Angeles. Numerous groups honored him with Lifetime Honorary Membership.  Dr. Russell Thomas Jackson’s life was a life well-lived.

He was preceded in death by his parents.  Surviving to love, honor and bless his memory are his beloved wife and life partner, Dierdre; his children and children in love, Russell (Lora) Jackson II, Traci Jackson Hopkins, Perry (Andrea) Parks IV, Steve (Tonya) Pemberton; grandchildren, Skyler Hopkins, James Hopkins, Kingston Bowie Jackson, Analiese Parks, Perry Parks V, Aria Parks, Anora Parks, Quinn Pemberton, Vaughn Pemberton, Kennedy Pemberton; siblings, Robert Jackson and Kenneth Jackson; sister-in-law, Alvinette McCleave;  godchildren, Cynthia Ball, Gavin Grayson, Gordon Grayson, Desiree Howe,  Brian Ligon, Andrea Peaten, Vannette Perkins, Maureen Ramos, and Michael Tanner; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, dear ones and loving friends.