Reaching Out as First Lady of the Tournament of Roses
Rick & Sharon Jackson
Sharon (Barker) Jackson (MDiv ’87) found herself in an unusual place on the second day of 2012—riding in a vintage car once owned by Hollywood starlet Jean Harlow, as the First Lady of the Tournament of Roses in this year’s parade. The Tournament of Roses parade and football game are time-honored traditions in Pasadena—the parade dates back to 1890, when the city’s Valley Hunt Club wanted to show off its Southern California paradise to friends stuck in the snow on the East Coast. Sharon’s husband, Richard W. Jackson, had the honor of serving as the Tournament president this year, after 30 years of moving up the ladder from volunteer to member of the executive committee.
“The commitment is all-consuming during the presidential year,” said Sharon, as she explained that Rick, a CPA, had to drastically cut back on clients while she retired a year early after teaching English for 24 years in La Cañada. “My role is to help create the theme and choose the Grand Marshal, as well as be a supportive presence during all the traveling,” said Sharon. Travel took up most of their time, as the first couple was expected to visit each of the 20 bands that would participate in the parade, as well as attend American and international festivals—from the Kentucky Derby to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Further, attending the Pac 12 and Big 10 football games were all part of the job.
“I am a total introvert,” she shared, admitting that while the year was unforgettable, it was also quite taxing. During the last eight years while her husband served on the executive committee, Sharon feels she has been “ripped out of my comfort zone.” However, she looks back and sees how special it was to share experiences with people from all over the world, as they traveled to places like Sweden, Japan, and Puerto Rico, as well as all over the United States. “Each town—from Indianapolis to the small town of Siloam Springs, Arkansas—is unique,” she remarked. “But I have discovered that we all share the same issues.”
At the parade on January 2 (the New Year’s parade is never held on a Sunday), Sharon found that, despite her introverted tendencies, it was “heartwarming” to connect with so many people in the crowd with eye contact and a wave, and to see their excited responses. “The whole parade was really joy-filled,” she recalled.
As Sharon has reached out in her role as First Lady, she has found that when she shares her educational background at Fuller, a faith discussion often naturally opens up. This is more Sharon’s style, as she has been drawn to pastoral work since she first felt called to ministry in the 1980s. At that time, she enrolled at Fuller and “soaked up what I learned like a sponge.” Sharon’s experience at Fuller was “meaningful and powerful,” she said, and immediately after earning her degree she spent a year as a hospice chaplain in Los Angeles, which she describes as one of her most rewarding ministry experiences. Recently, Sharon has served as a lay caregiver through the Stephen Ministry at her church, La Cañada Presbyterian, and is feeling “re-called.” And now that she has retired from teaching and her whirlwind year as First Lady has ended, Sharon says, “My current passion—which has been simmering for years—is to become an ordained hospice chaplain.”
The most rewarding part of her travels with the Tournament of Roses, she affirms, was “sharing life, faith and emotions, basically, with the world.” Looking forward to her next chapter—one of chaplaincy—Sharon can count on sharing life, faith, and emotions in a setting that is quite different indeed, but no less rewarding.