Frank Jackson, Pierson dining hall icon, set to retire after 17 years at Yale



Zoe Berg, photo editor

Frank Jackson, known on campus for his friendly demeanor and affection for Yalies in the Pierson College dining room, will retire after seventeen years at Yale.

For the past eight years, Jackson — affectionately known to students as “Uncle Frank” — has been a warm presence in the dining room at Pierson College. His time at Pierson followed a long career at Yale Hospitality, including work in the catering and dining rooms at Grace Hopper, Stiles and Morse Colleges. Loved by members of the Yale community, Jackson will leave a legacy of service to the university and support to those around him. While peers and students alike praised him for his kindness, Jackson reflected on his life and career as he looks towards retirement.

“When you come here in the dining room, I say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ because I really want to know how you are. I want to know if you’re okay, because if you’re not, then I’ll help you in any way I can,” Jackson said. “For me, the dining room is a place of rejuvenation.”

Jackson, 74, spent much of his childhood in Montgomery, Alabama. Having grown up in the country surrounded by “pigs, chickens, cows, mules, and a big old yard,” he looks forward to going back to his roots by moving back to the Southern States with his wife. He plans to take up fishing after he retires and stresses the importance of “coexisting with everything else around you”.

Long before he entered university, Jackson found his life intertwined with Yale. When he first moved to New Haven in 1965, at the height of the civil rights movement, he watched Yale students marching and protesting against segregation. From elementary school through high school, he received tuition from Yale students as part of the Ulysses S. Grant Program, which supports academically gifted students at the New Haven public school.

He then attended Gateway Community College for two years before serving six years as a military policeman in the US Air Force. Although he enjoyed working in law enforcement, upon returning to New Haven he chose to work in the printing industry rather than become a police officer. After a 20-year career in reprography, he took jobs in construction and food facilities before coming to Yale to work in catering.

He relied on his strongest memories of “survival” during his time at New Haven and Yale. Indeed, Jackson’s life has been one of resilience — aside from growing up in the midst of civil rights struggles, he had to endure his father’s death at age nine that rocked his world. Previously, he had always been “taught that the Jacksons were invincible.”

“My favorite and most memorable thing is getting through everything. Surviving family events and issues, surviving street events and issues, surviving life events and issues,” Jackson said. “To survive, join the military and come home, survive, sign on this dotted line to give my life and defend this great nation.”

Jackson wants Yale students to protect themselves too. As a formal martial arts teacher, he spoke of being “fearless,” telling Yale students that no matter how scared they may be in the face of issues like climate change and the threat of war and attack, they must survive. At the end of the day, Jackson said he wanted everyone to survive to make it home to their families and encouraged Yalies to “go to grandma’s birthday party because grannies are very special.”

The students reflected on their positive experiences with Jackson in the dining room. Wini Aboyure ’25, who is at Davenport College, shared that despite her affiliation with a different dorm, Jackson always went out of her way to make her feel welcome. She laughed as she shared several memories of Jackson teaching her how to make a “fist with your thumb out, just in case.” [she] gotta fight someone.” Meanwhile, Pierson students Hannah Hernandez ’23 and Zoe Colfax ’25 described the emotional support Jackson has given them.

“Frank has been a great friend and mentor to me,” said Colfax. “Frank knows when I’m upset or stressed and he’s always the first to ask about me.”

Hernandez spoke to Jackson’s genuine concern for her feelings and well-being, noting that they had had many heartfelt conversations over the past year and a half since joining Yale. She pointed to Jackson as a source of comfort while living far from home during college. Having spent over a year abroad while serving in the Air Force, Jackson is particularly comfortable with the feelings of the students.

Regulars in Pierson’s dining room know that Jackson often greets students and colleagues with hugs and punches. Jackson said he’s always tried to interact with students as equals and “on the same level as humans,” reaching out to nearly every student who enters the dining room. He loves interacting with the students and has enjoyed watching them grow during their time at Yale.

“To see the students come in as freshmen, and to see the transition that they’re going through, the metamorphosis that they’re going through … that’s a favorite too,” Jackson said. “And another is just my colleagues, who are another diverse group and who are also going through a transformation over the years of working at Yale.”

Precious Greenwood, who has worked with Jackson at the Pierson Dining Room for 11 years, said he has been a helpful presence to her during their time together. She and other staff enjoy listening to Jackson’s stories each morning and shared that they appreciate the way he interacts with students.

Outside of the dining room, Jackson enjoyed attending sports games and theater productions at Yale. He also often attends events hosted by Yale’s African American Cultural Center and particularly enjoys gospel choir performances. A constant presence in the lives of his students, he has attended graduation ceremonies and reunions whenever possible as he appreciates the students being able to get back together.

Once he retires, Jackson will join his 35-year-old wife Diane, who retired from her work at Yale New Haven Hospital two years ago. He has two daughters and once he moves he hopes to be able to take day trips to visit other family members down south. He also plans to rescue two puppies before leaving New Haven and give them “Yale names”. Currently “Pierson” and “Hopper” are contenders.

“We will miss him. We love him and wish him well,” Greenwood said. “We will miss the way he interacts with all of us and always leans on him. We know we can rely on him and his spirit.”

Jackson plans to celebrate his retirement with a cookout at East Rock this August.




MEGAN VAZ




Megan Vaz reports on Yale-New Haven relations. Originally from South Florida, she is a freshman in history at Pierson College.

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