On Friday, January 30, the Binghamton MPA community suffered a terrible loss. Steve Jackson, (MPA, 2007), passed away suddenly, leaving a void in the hearts of those who called him a friend.
I met Steve in the summer of 2005; we both were starting our MPA degrees and were part of a small, but cohesive cohort of enthusiastic students. Before the MPA program was located in the beautiful downtown space, it was housed on the main campus in the library basement. Steve and I were both graduate assistants who shared a small office space with Denis Scott (MPA, 2007) and Jennifer Miller (MPA, 2007) in a windowless room that was nearly impossible to find. Some of my fondest memories from graduate school took place in that basement-we laughed, rushed to finish last minute assignments, had regular lunches, slept on the couch that we moved in there, and occasionally were able to complete some work.
I, like so many others, was devastated by the news of Steve’s untimely passing-Steve was always so full of life, able to make a joke, break the ice, and make everyone smile. He was an amazing ambassador for the MPA program and was a true public servant. After moving to Binghamton, Steve quickly integrated himself into the tightknit community-volunteering, taking an interest in local politics, and frequenting area small businesses. He soon considered Binghamton his home.
In early 2006, Steve, myself and several other MPA students traveled to New Orleans to volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He spoke with everyone he could, collecting stories of loss and hope, offering words of encouragement, and was visibly pensive and moved by the experience.
Within the MPA program, Steve established himself as a leader, excellent student, and a person, who other students gravitated toward-for help with classwork, to exchange ideas, and of course, for a good laugh. He was an incredibly humble person, who never spoke of his achievements nor did he like to be recognized publicly for the important work that he was doing, instead he preferred to quietly slip away when his name was mentioned.
Jennifer Whitehead (MPA, 2008) shares, “Steve was an academic, an expert, a professional. He was educated, and he was genuine. An intersection of all these qualities became one of the important things Steve had, something not really compatible with perfection, or with sainthood: he had credibility.
If Steve told me I had done something well, I believed him. If he guided me to a resource, a reference, a teacher, I trusted it. If he didn’t know an answer, he said so. We trusted Steve to help; we trusted him with our opinions. We trusted Steve with our things, and with our uncertainties. We trusted Steve to have fun with and we also trusted him to work really hard–we trusted him with group projects, and with academic problems. We trusted him to lead us. Not unique qualities in themselves, maybe, but Steve put them together in a singular way.”
Though modest about his accomplishments, Steve did love the stage as both a thespian and musician. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform on several occasions and always smiled when he signed emails “ROCK.” Denis Scott adds, “When Steve was in need of a more professional closing, he simply ended his emails with “Best.” Not “Best wishes,” or “Best regards,” just “Best.” This succinct sign-off fit Steve in every way. His curiosity, humor, and zeal for each project, paper, and meeting made good things better. Steve seemed to have a knack for adding special insights that created “a-ha” moments. Watching his face light up while his smile turned into an impish grin, then pausing for a beat to deliver the perfect one-liner… now that was the best.”
Processing the loss of Steve has been challenging for so many people-how do you fully understand the loss of someone who was so full of life? Over the past few weeks, I have connected with those who called Steve a friend and through tears and smiles we took the time to really remember him-the guy who drove a Honda Element; loved to eat Gouda and apples; had the basement apartment on Walnut Street where we would all gather after a night at the Belmar; and who, despite the stress of graduate school, could always elicit a laugh.
Best to you, Steve. Best.