A sports fan today can hardly picture a major-college athletic department without a fundraising arm. Yet, Texas Tech’s reach in that regard was limited for its first 30-plus years.
Then along came Leete Jackson Jr. to act as a Tech trailblazer.
“I think the best way to describe him is Mr. Red Raider Club,” former Tech player, coach and athletic director Gerald Myers said. “He started the Red Raider Club from scratch as far as I know. He was just a great ambassador for Texas Tech athletics.”
Jackson, who became the Red Raider Club’s first paid employee in 1958 and led the support group until 1986, died Tuesday at age 89.
During those 28 years as the athletic department’s chief fundraiser, his title was executive vice president of the Red Raider Club, which might have understated the role.
“For years, Leete was the Red Raider Club,” said A-J Editor Emeritus Burle Pettit. “He not only loved the job ... he literally lived it. Wherever Tech played football, Leete drove there in the RRC car and parked it at whatever point of the stadium that gave it its best visibility.
“Leete also was a community treasure and icon. He was a star football player for the (Lubbock High) Westerners, played stellar ball for the Raiders and was an ambassador for Lubbock itself.”
Jackson died Tuesday morning at Carillon House, where he had lived for three years. His wife, Jane Ann, said he had suffered from multiple health issues, including cancer and diabetes, in recent years.
“He died with me holding his hand and telling him how much I loved him,” she said. “We’d been sweethearts since the fifth grade. It was a great love story.”
Jackson moved to Lubbock at age 5 and co-captained Lubbock High’s 1939 state championship team. He started his Tech career in 1941, then after joining the U.S. Marine Air Corps in World War II, returned and lettered for the Red Raiders in 1946 and 1947.
During Jackson’s time as a player, one of his jobs was to go around collecting money for the Matador Club, a forerunner of the Red Raider Club.
A decade later, that would turn out to be perhaps his true calling.
“Leete was a great Red Raider,” his wife said. “He loved Tech and he loved his job running the Red Raider Club. He said, ‘Every day I get up, it’s a pleasure to go to work.’”
Myers said Jackson was “at ease with anybody and everybody,” making him ideal for the job of fundraiser. He got so good at it that some 25 other schools consulted him when developing their own booster clubs.
The Red Raider Club now raises more than $5 million in annual donations.
When recapping his career, Jackson said the Red Raider Club raised less than $45,000 during his first year in charge. Before he left in the mid-1980s, it was taking in $1.6 million a year and had 27 chapters in cities from Albuquerque, N.M., to Houston.
“It’s become a massive task,” he said in a 1984 interview with The A-J. “We’ve got to raise more money today because of the greater expenses in college athletics. ... It takes a whole lot more to make the ol’ mule go.”
That meant shaking hands and making friends in cities large and small.
Jackson organized golf outings and dinners all over West Texas, never forgetting the small towns that are key to the Red Raiders’ fan base.
“Those golf outings were a big deal all those years, at Hereford and Muleshoe, Tahoka — just to name a few,” Myers said.
“He always made the coaches the featured speakers and guests at those outings during the summer, but he always organized them. Leete organized every one of them. He’d lay the groundwork, working with the local people in all those communities to make sure we had good turnouts and good support when we went to those events.”
Steve Uryasz took over leading the Red Raider Club in 2001. Uryasz, Tech senior associate athletic director for development and external operations, said Jackson stopped in for weekly visits for about five years before his health declined.
“He was a tremendous help to me,” Uryasz said, “because he let me know a lot of history. ... In our business, a lot of times our donors want to remain anonymous. Leete was instrumental in soliciting gifts from those people. He introduced us to those people so that we could continue to foster those relationships.
“He knew everybody.”
Memorial services for Jackson are scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Neil Chapel at Carillon LifeCare Community.
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