Retirement life seemed to suit former USMC Major General Anthony “Tony” Jackson just fine. He was happy tilling the soil in the garden of his Fallbrook home – for all of about ten months. Then, in early November his phone rang, and Jackson soon decided his winter re-seeding project could wait.
The call Jackson fielded was from California governor Jerry Brown, who asked Jackson to lead the state’s Park and Recreation Department. It was an opportunity Jackson didn’t see coming when he retired last January, after 36 years in the Marine Corps.
“There have been lots of inquires made into my future plans since I retired from the Marine Corps, but I didn’t feel like leaving the retirement life until now,” Jackson said.
“My wife (Susan) had just gotten used to having me around, and after 36 years of Marine Corps life, I wasn’t sure she would embrace my working again. We had started to travel more, and I didn’t think she wanted to give that up.”
Susan Jackson surprised her husband, and gave him a “thumbs-up” when the call came from the governor.
“One thing I learned as a wife of a Marine, you have to always be flexible,” Susan Jackson said.
“I had a feeling that Tony wasn’t going to be able to be retired for long, and this is a great opportunity for him to do what he does best. When he asked me about taking the job, I gave him my approval.”
Jackson, 63, assumes control of an agency that has recently been enveloped in controversy – one in which a perceived leadership void was cited. That won’t be an issue with Jackson, whose reputation as a leader was, and still is, held in high regard among both superior and junior officers who served with him in the Marine Corps. Jackson said he’ll employ some of the same leadership methods he used as a Marine officer, to restore taxpayer faith in the Dept. of Parks and Recreation.
“Once I am sworn-in and can meet with my staff, we’ll see what has worked well within the department, and what needs to be improved,” said Jackson before departing for Sacramento and his Friday, Nov. 16 swearing-in ceremony.
“It may not take long, perhaps 30 days or less, to find out what changes need to be made. When we’ve figured out what doesn’t work, we’ll fix it, and move on to tackling the next challenge. The most important task I have ahead of me is getting to know the organization and getting to know the people who will be on my staff. Most importantly, I’ve got a lot of listening to do.”
Jackson’s learning curve at a department that oversees more than one million acres of parkland statewide will be short and compact. As the commander of Marine Corps Installations (West), he was intrinsically involved with both state and federal agencies in the preservation of land at six regional facilities used by the Marine Corps, including nearby Camp Pendleton.
According to Jackson, the Department of Parks and Recreation operates 280 state parks; has an estimated annual budget of more than $500 million, and has 4000 employees – 700 of whom are park rangers. Those numbers don’t faze Jackson, whose budget and manpower levels were larger while he served as MCI West commander.
“It’s a big department, and its area of responsibility is a big one – it stretches from the northern California border, all the way to Tijuana, so there is a lot to manage,” said Jackson.
“But this isn’t something new for me. I’ve handled some pretty big responsibilities in the past, and we’ll use some of the knowledge I gained in the Marine Corps and apply it where we can at the parks department.”
Although his selection to the high-profile position means Jackson will spend a lot more time at the state capitol, he says he has no plans to move permanently to the Sacramento area, or to pursue higher office.
“We’re here to stay in Fallbrook,” Jackson said.
“”This is our home and this is where we’ll be. Like so many other people who work out of town, I will be a weekend commuter. I also have no intentions of starting a political career. The opportunity the governor has given me is a great one, and I’m happy to put my leadership experience to work for the state, but I’m not in this to start a career in politics.”