We are saddened to share the news that alumna and longtime staff member Billie Jackson, who served the University for nearly three decades, passed away June 18. She was 74.
Born May 5, 1946, in Oroville, she graduated from Oroville High School as a standout student and athlete, and enrolled at Chico State, where she would earn a bachelor’s degree in English in 1974 and a master’s degree in education in 1990.
Jackson worked as a supervisor for Butte County Head Start and Pacific Bell before she was hired in 1977 as the director of Chico State’s Student Learning Center and what would become the Accessibility Resource Center. It was the start of a 29-year career fulfilling her passion of serving students.
Herman Ellis, retired associate vice president for Student Life, said Jackson was a strong advocate for Educational Opportunity Program students and went above the call of duty to help students persist to graduation. She also took the Student Learning Center from its infancy to a comprehensive support program, and she developed the annual Black Graduation Celebration, which has now honored the accomplishments of Black graduates for nearly three decades.
“Billie truly loved her job. And no matter what was going on, she always had a positive smile and attitude about her,” Ellis said. “Miss Billie always displayed class and dignity in whatever she did. She was an inspiration to us all.”
Jackson’s reputation preceded her, said Chela Mendoza Patterson, who was told by a colleague at her previous university that she had to connect with the esteemed director once she started at Chico State. Little did she know, their initial meeting would be the start of a decades-long professional relationship and friendship.
“There were not a lot of black professionals on campus, but she was one of the people who was viewed with a lot of respect,” said Mendoza Patterson, associate vice president for student life and interim chief diversity officer. “Students looked up to her but a lot of staff looked up to her as well. She was wise, and she was kind.”
The entire campus community gravitated toward Jackson, and Mendoza Patterson admired how deeply she cared about students, shaping them with a teacher’s perspective. She often sought out Jackson for advice, whether how to juggle her own role as a mother and professional, or navigate challenging situations on campus. Comforting and a good listener, Jackson could always help find a positive spin on a situation and be trusted to hold conversations in confidence.
“She had incredible perspective,” Mendoza Patterson said. “In a lot of ways, for our community of color, she was an elder for a lot of us. We really looked up to her. She was a life mentor.”
Tracy Butts met Jackson when she first came to campus in 2001, but she didn’t really get to know her until they drove together to the first African American Excellence and Success Retreat for Black students, faculty, and staff.
“I got to see this insight into her personality,” she recalled. “When you meet her on the surface, she is nice and sweet and quiet and reserved, but oh, she had a wicked little bite. She had me cracking up the whole time. And she shared so many great stories about Chico.”
Today, Butts knows generations of students who benefitted from Jackson’s impact.
“You talk to almost any Black alum from a certain time period and they all know Miss Billie Jackson and have a great story to tell about her,” she said. “In a very stately and quiet way, one of the things she has done was provide an example not just now to be a citizen on campus but how to be a leader, especially for all members of the Black Faculty and Staff Association. Her desire to help student success is one of the things that has shaped how a lot of Black professionals choose to show up, because there was a model in Miss Billie Jackson that we all aspire to emulate.”
Jackson retired in 2006. In honor of her many contributions, the Billie Jackson Award was soon established to honor the top African American student upon graduation and pay tribute to Jackson’s enrichment of the Chico Experience, her service and commitment to students, and mentorship to so many.
“Billie was a prominent figure in our Chico Black community,” said Tray Robinson, director of Diversity and Inclusion and lecturer in Multicultural and Gender Studies, as well as a 1996 alumnus. “She mentored many including myself. She also was a mother figure to so many of us who came to Chico from LA and the Bay Area. She was a social justice advocate and was willing to help anyone. You wanted to do well and not disappoint her because she cared to much about you.”
Jackson was also instrumental in the establishment of the Boys & Girls Club of the North Valley, serving on its original board, and a founding member of Chico’s Habitat for Humanity. She also served on the Essence Women’s Club of Chico and at Bethel AME Church.
In 1996, she was awarded the Outstanding Citizen Award by the city of Chico, and in 2006, she was named the Rotary Paul Harris Fellow Award.
She is survived by her husband of 53 years, Matthews D. Jackson; son Matthews D. Jackson Jr.; daughter Joy J. Jones; brother Ronald Charles; grandchildren Christian, Autumn, Kendall, and Deylen; and numerous other members of her extended family.
The University flag will be lowered Monday, August 3, in her memory. We will share serve details when we learn of them.