EVERETT — Helen Hardin Jackson was remembered Saturday as a gentle mother and “Grammy,” a devoted helpmate who found humor in political life, a champion of human rights, and the best first lady we never had.
As the wife and later the widow of U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, she was a true partner to Everett’s favorite son.
Her memorial service brought political notables to Everett’s First Presbyterian Church, among them retired Congressman Norm Dicks, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and former Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson. And along with her beloved family, there were friends from the adopted hometown she came to adore.
Helen Jackson died at her Everett home Feb. 24 surrounded by her family. She was 84. She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Anna Marie and Dan Laurence; her son, Peter Jackson, and his wife, Laurie Werner; and grandchildren Julia and Jack Laurence.
“Mom, she was like peaches and cream. She had the kindest heart,” said Anna Marie Laurence, who told those gathered that raising a family had been her mother’s chief occupation.
Peter Jackson spoke of his mother’s wry humor and broad smile, frequent reactions to what she sometimes saw as the silliness of politics. By age 6, he said, he had learned to recite the names of all the presidents. It was his mother, he said, who coaxed him into “adding Dad’s name.”
“Thank God for Helen Jackson’s humor,” he said.
Larry O’Donnell, a local historian and retired Everett schools administrator, talked of getting to know “the private sides of Helen and Scoop” when their children were young. O’Donnell recalled camp outs, sleepovers and neighborhood musicals, with their daughters giving themselves starring roles.
Sen. Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1972 and 1976 were “heady times for Everett,” during which Helen Jackson showed “dignity and poise” as a political wife, O’Donnell said. Quoting the columnist George Will, who had dubbed Scoop Jackson “the best president we never had,” O’Donnell said there was a corollary: “Helen was the best first lady we never had.”
Norm Dicks, a Democrat who represented Washington’s 6th Congressional District from 1977 to 2013, said Gov. Jay Inslee wasn’t able to attend due to a governors’ conference in Seattle.
“No one had more grace than Helen Jackson,” said Dicks, who recalled dining with the Jacksons in Washington, D.C. “Helen and Scoop loved Everett, and Everett loved them. She will be missed and never forgotten by the people of Washington state.”
Lara Iglitzin, executive director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, recalled Helen Jackson’s professionalism and devotion to duty, including how she personally signed thousands of thank-you letters to donors. For years after Sen. Jackson died in Everett on Sept. 1, 1983, she labored to further her husband’s unfinished work through the foundation. It was founded in 1983 with money left from his 1982 re-election campaign.
The Seattle-based foundation issues grants and oversees initiatives related to international affairs education, human rights, the environment and public service, all hallmarks of the Jackson legacy. In 2008, the foundation endowed the Helen H. Jackson Chair in Human Rights at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies.
Sen. Jackson had pushed for the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, which was instrumental in removing barriers to emigration by Jewish people in the Soviet Union. Helen Jackson became part of that effort. In 1978, Iglitzin said, she co-founded Congressional Wives for Soviet Jewry. The group worked to ease restrictions on Soviet Jewish emigration.
Among pictures shown during a slide show at the memorial was one of Helen Jackson with Yelena Bonner, a Russian rights activist and widow of Andrei Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and dissident. Another photo showed her with Natan Sharansky, a former “refusenik” who had spent years in Soviet prisons.
With both a global and a local focus, Helen Jackson was active in civic and charitable organizations. The Gertrude Jackson Memorial Scholarship Fund, the National Osteoporosis Foundation, Pacific Northwest Ballet, the General Hospital Foundation, the American Red Cross, Imagine Children’s Museum, Little Red Schoolhouse, Snohomish County Democrats and the Everett Woman’s Book Club were among organizations she supported.
O’Donnell said she opened her elegant Grand Avenue home to winners of the Gertrude Jackson scholarships. Named in honor of the senator’s sister, a lifelong teacher, those scholarships helping Everett-area students have totaled more than $1 million.
The slide show — in images from her childhood in New Mexico, early years with Scoop, motherhood and later life — offered glimpses of glamour, fun and family life. There was even a cameo appearance in the movie “Advise and Consent,” a 1962 political thriller.
Born in Clovis, New Mexico, on Aug. 17, 1933, Helen Eugenia Hardin was the only child of Marion Moody Hardin and Jeanne Hardin. She had studied at Vassar College before transferring to Scripps College in Claremont, California. In 1955, she graduated with a degree in English and philosophy. At Columbia University, she earned a master’s degree in English literature, specializing in the works of British writer Virginia Woolf.
It was January 1961, her first day working for U.S. Sen. Clinton Anderson, of New Mexico, when she met Sen. Jackson on an elevator. He was 21 years her senior. By Dec. 16, 1961, they were married.
The voice of a regal and articulate Helen Jackson was heard during the slide show when, in 1984, she accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan in honor of her husband. In closing remarks, she said: “As Scoop used to say, ‘If you believe in the cause of freedom, then proclaim it, live it and protect it, for humanity’s future depends upon it.”
“Today we honor a life well lived,” the Rev. Alan Dorway said at the start of Saturday’s service. That life wasn’t all lived in public. The sweetest memories shared were those only her family experienced.
Anna Marie Laurence said her mother loved Coke floats with hand-cranked ice cream. She recalled visits to the National Zoo to see pandas. And when her daughter was pregnant and on bed rest while living in Detroit, Helen Jackson came to stay — and slept on the floor.
Julia Laurence, Helen Jackson’s granddaughter, spoke of visits to the Imagine Children’s Museum, the grocery store and McDonald’s — a place her own mom didn’t allow. Her Grammy cruised Everett in a Chrysler New Yorker. If the weather changed and it started to sprinkle, her grandmother would cover her perfectly coifed hair with a plastic rain bonnet.
Grandson Jack Laurence said she’d put on a Kermit the Frog hand puppet and talk in Kermit’s voice. And even as Alzheimer’s disease began to steal her memories — “she called me Scoop a few times” — Jack Laurence said “her humor was unwavering.”
“That light in her eyes, that smile in her eyes, never left her,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
The Jackson family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Helen H. Jackson Chair in Human Rights at the University of Washington: www.giving.uw.edu/helenjackson
Or to the Helen Jackson Scholarship at the Everett Rotary Youth Foundation. Send check to: The Rotary Club of Everett, P.O. Box 1225, Everett, WA 98206.