Beloved local writer Dot Jackson dies at age 84

Photo courtesy Cindy Morris
Beloved local writer and friend to all Dot Jackson died at age 84 at her daughter’s home in North Carolina on Sunday.

By Olivia Fowler

For the Courier

Dorothea Mauldin Jackson, 84, died Sunday night at her daughter’s home in Newland, NC. She has left the mountains she so loved but leaves behind a formidable legacy.

She was born in Miami on Aug. 10, 1932. She grew up in Florida and studied music and dance at the University of Miami. But she never considered herself a native.

Her parents came from the Mauldins, Garvins and Boggses of this region and had married against family wishes, finally having to flee the community after an uncle shot her daddy. But they stayed here in spirit and never really settled anywhere else.

So as soon as she could, Dot came home.

She was small in stature and plagued with numerous physical ailments, but a few minutes in her company made you forget all that. She charmed all she met with an indomitable spirit, a brilliant mind and a heart for the ages. Her path to heaven is littered with kind deeds.

She would stop and feed stray dogs on the roadside. She volunteered hundreds of hours of instruction in creative writing to elementary school children in Pickens County. And she was never too busy to listen to your troubles.

She read and edited manuscripts for fledgling authors, often charging nothing for her services, and edited books for fellow authors, many of whom she’d worked with over the years. She even gave invaluable guidance during the founding of this very newspaper.

She wrote about the human condition. During her long career as a columnist and reporter, she captured the hearts of the people she covered. She cared about the people. She wasn’t just after the scoop. When she told a story, she became the people she talked about, bringing them to life. She was always able to laugh and to share the joke with you.

12-14 Page 1A.inddI first met Dot Jackson in 1986 when she worked for the Greenville News and I was beginning at the Clemson Messenger. This was shortly after she’d been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the industrial PCB contamination of the Twelve Mile River. She’d come to the Greenville News from the Charlotte Observer, where she’d been a renowned columnist and reporter.

While there, she was instrumental in having the New River in North Carolina receive federal designation as a Wild and Scenic River, saving it for posterity. Her series of articles with Frye Gaillard of the Observer about the Catawba River and the people who lived along it culminated in a book, “The Catawba River,” published in 1983.

She had a passionate love for the natural world and valued every rock, blade of grass and living creature. One of her greatest gifts was her ability to produce words that made this world real to those who’d never seen it and to introduce them to the unique characters who populate this region. Her Appalachian roots grew deep, as her ancestors had settled in the region generations before.

She fought with all her resources to save the land and keep the rivers pure. She didn’t win every battle; but her opponents always knew they’d been in a war.

During her career, she worked for several newspapers in the Southeast and contributed articles to numerous magazines and other publications.

She was on the board of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, was awarded South Carolina’s Order of the Palmetto and produced a novel, “Refuge,” published in 2006 and winner of the Novello Prize, by the Novello Festival Press of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library. It won the 2006 Weatherford Award and the Appalachian Book of the Year Award.

She told me there was a lot of family history in the book and she couldn’t release it for publication until an entire generation of her family died. She said the book would have upset her mother.

She was one of the original founders of the Birchwood Center for Arts and Folklife and was a moving force in its mission to preserve the heritage of the region. Her efforts to restore the Sutherland-Masters House on Birchwood property near Table Rock continued until her death, and although she did not live to see it finished, she did know it was well on its way.

Financial gain was outside her realm of interest. Material things didn’t interest her, and she was quick to give away what she did possess to those she felt could use it.

Her voice is stilled now. And her legion of friends will grieve for her. But the body of work she leaves behind tells her story more effectively than I can ever express here.

Her funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 26 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Walhalla. A reception will follow the service.