Saying goodbye to a friend too soon gone

It’s been a week, and I still can’t believe my friend J.J. Jackson is gone.

Jackson, a longtime lobbyist and lawyer in Nevada, died unexpectedly of a heart attack last week. If ever there was a person who was full of life, it was J.J. I still half expect to see him bounding up somewhere, clad in a trademark Tommy Bahama shirt, greeting me with that smile that took up his whole face and was big as a Nevada desert sky.

J.J. was one of those rare people whom pretty much everybody liked, a Midwestern gentleman who defined class. He was a skilled lawyer, most recently as a shareholder at the Las Vegas firm of Thorndal Armstrong Delk Balkenbush &Eisinger. He helped me with a minor legal problem once, after the state of Nevada and I found ourselves in a disagreement over the proper interpretation of highway speed limits. His retainer? A nice bottle of Macallan, although not as nice as it should have been.

He’d had some struggles in recent years. He survived prostate cancer, and I won’t soon forget him telling a group of friends during a party at my house about his experience, encouraging everyone to get checked early for the disease. I took his earnest advice. He underwent knee surgery, posting on Facebook a picture of himself prepped and headed to the operating room, still beaming that unstoppable smile.

He’d spent a lot of time in his native Oklahoma recently with his mom, Carolyn Marie Jeffreys Jackson, before she passed away. His love for her beamed right off the computer screen with every photo he posted.

But he didn’t let those tragedies get him down or rob him of any of the joys he found in life. J.J. loved to take his Harley-Davidson out for rides, transforming effortlessly from a pinstripe-suit-wearing attorney to a leather-clad biker dude. He loved to vacation in exotic locales, such as Jamaica and Cabo San Lucas, peppering his Facebook page with jealousy-inducing candid shots. He loved to spend time with his friends over a nice glass of wine and a cigar, swapping stories and offering up that booming laugh. He especially loved talking about his son, Jeffrey Gene Jackson, of whom his pride knew no bounds. He was especially excited about Jeffrey’s upcoming wedding, and he couldn’t wait to welcome his son’s fiancee, Monica McCall, to his family. I know missing that day was something he’d regret.

J.J. was generous with his time and expertise, and he would go miles out of his way to help a friend, whether the problem was legal or personal. He was the kind of person you wanted on your side, no matter what trouble you were facing.

And Carson City! He loved that town, and it loved him. I often joked with J.J. about running for mayor, but he could have done it. He served in the district attorney’s office there early in his legal career and later went on to be the juvenile master and associate Municipal Court judge in Nevada’s capital city. Some truly epic gatherings took place at his Carson City home during legislative sessions.

I said without pretense on Facebook after I got the news about J.J. that he was very much like Jesus: Both loved people, and people naturally gravitated to them. And you’d be hard pressed to find a soul who’d say anything bad about either, except maybe for the bad guys. J.J. left behind a huge circle of associates, friends and family (including his sister, Mary Jackson Duffee) who loved him very much and will miss him terribly. Farewell and Godspeed, J.J.

A memorial service for J.J. Jackson will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Palm Mortuary, 1325 N. Main St., in Las Vegas.

SteveSebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or