When I finally met Keith Jackson ’54 last summer, I felt like I was meeting a friend. He didn’t know it, but we had already spent numerous Saturdays together. While he was calling the biggest games in college football, I was a fan, enjoying not just the games, but the spectacle and excitement that Keith communicated so skillfully to audiences.
Listening to Keith call a game, it was easy to get lost in the excitement of the event. He was a nearly flawless professional—this was obvious to even a casual fan. What set Keith apart from other broadcasters is that he respected the games and their players enough to let events happen without forcing himself into their most special moments. He was the rare, skilled broadcaster who could add to a game without making a broadcast about himself. Although he did it better than anyone, he was like all broadcasters in that he populated his sportscasts with outstanding play-by-play calling and relevant facts. What set Keith apart from his sportscasting peers were his timely observations, occasional stories, and uncanny use of silence. His accounts of sporting events as they unfolded on live television connected with millions of individuals and, by doing so, became a shared, national experience.
While I spent an afternoon with Keith and his wife Turi Ann x’52, I learned a few things about the character of the man I’d spent decades listening to—his humility and confidence, humor and pride, and most importantly, his strong relationship to his wife, family, friends, and Washington State University.
First, Keith understood that he didn’t need to be the center of attention to make an important contribution. It seemed to me that Keith’s personal sense of fulfillment came, not from a sense of self-importance, but from a sense that he had contributed to the success of others.
Next, you couldn’t talk to Keith for long without him mentioning family, friends, and the love of his life, Turi Ann. Keith and Turi Ann enjoyed a special relationship, which started when they met in Pullman. They were married in 1952 and the result was a lifelong partnership. I first noticed Keith talking about Turi Ann when he returned to Pullman for the building we dedicated in his name. She was always close by and he was genuinely pleased to have her involved in the festivities. It was clear that they were a team.
Keith had a strong sense of who he was, and it made those around him comfortable. He had strong opinions and shared them freely. Even so, Keith’s humility, self-deprecating sense of humor, and his stories gave him an unpretentious charm. Ask about his time at WSU, and he’d tell a story about driving a garbage truck. Ask about his experiences in the Soviet Union, and he’d describe the Russian vase he struggled to get past Soviet security as a gift for Turi Ann, only to discover that it was made in India. Perhaps it came from his small-town Georgia roots, but being sure of himself allowed Keith to make others feel sure of themselves.
Keith was a leader. Perhaps his experience serving in the Marines strengthened his confidence and resolve. I realized later that even as a college student Keith was honing those abilities. He was freshman class president, involved in a fraternity, and played significant roles in student organizations. Clearly, his time at WSU allowed Keith to sharpen his leadership skills.
Keith understood what it meant to be a Cougar. He and Turi Ann gave generously to the Murrow College and to other WSU institutions. We have a building, a newsroom, graduate fellowships, an excellence fund, and a scholarship that bear the Jackson name. Over the years, a select group of Murrow College broadcasting students have received the Keith Jackson Sports Award. Keith wrote personal letters to them, encouraging the students in their professional endeavors and offering to mentor them. These were personal, meaningful, and encouraging letters the recipients put away for safekeeping.
Ultimately, Keith had pride in his work without being a proud person. If any of us have a reason for pride in the quality of our work, Keith had reason. Even now as I listen to him call a game, I’m impressed by its quality. It’s almost as if I’ve forgotten how good a sportscast can be and, when I hear Keith again, I’m reminded of his tremendous work that was a regular part of my life for so many years.
Bruce Pinkleton is dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
On the web
Stories, memories, and videos of Keith Jackson courtesy of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.