Bob Jackson was born Jan. 14, 1923, and raised in Clarksburg, W.Va., during the Great Depression. He was fortunate to have a father who was a newspaper typesetter, and therefore got free passes for the circuses and shows passing through town. That planted the seed of love for the entertainment arts that shaped his life.
When he was almost 14, his father died, and Jackson took on a newspaper route to help provide for the family. Strangely enough, this job developed one of his first juggling skills. Instead of merely throwing the rolled up newspapers, he made a game out of it by tossing them behind his back.
This penchant for making a game out of what might have been drudgery carried over into later sessions of family juggling practice, which he directed with a work-as-fun psychology into games, contests and rewards.
He joined the Navy in 1942, serving in Brooklyn, and was spotted throwing extremely accurate behind the back basketball passes to teammates. He was recruited for the base team and was assigned to be in charge of the athletic gear room. He found it boring until he picked up some tennis balls and taught himself to juggle.
His juggling skill was at first just an adjunct to his basketball skills. At the end of the war he received a basketball scholarship to West Virginia University, and became a crowd-pleaser with his ball spinning and behind the back passes. His juggling skill also increased and he began to perform around the university town of Morgantown. He met Lois Kay Trevillian, a local acrobatic dancer also enrolled at the university, and married her shortly after his graduation with an accounting degree in 1950. They moved to Pittsburgh and began their show business career.
There was plenty of work in area night clubs, company functions, parties and conventions. Bob Jackson performed comedy juggling and occasionally emceed. Lois Kay danced tap and did acrobatics. When Lois became pregnant with their first child, a son named Lee, they moved to Cleveland. The entertainment career was replaced with a 9-to-5 accounting job.
But during the pregnancy, Lois learned to juggle and pass clubs. Her left-handedness led to some unusual passes, and Bob began throwing some of his passes behind the back. He took credit as the first person to pass clubs behind the back, and never heard anyone dispute the claim.
Bob and Lois worked their act on the side in Cleveland, with Lois taking a break in 1952 to give birth to a daughter, Joy. Bob took a leave of absence from his job in 1955 to go on a summer fair tour with Goodings Shows. Bob and Lois practiced their act up to 20 times a day to a razor precision in the back yard or living room as the children watched. "The Jacksons" became a top-notch passing act always in demand.
When Bob wasn't at his accounting job or performing, he was practicing juggling, visiting jugglers or watching other jugglers. The Jackson house was always open to jugglers and other show people, and the family had many friends in the business. Bob had attended the first IJA convention in Jamestown, N.Y., in 1948, and the young family regularly attended conventions in the 1950s. Bob was active in the organization, and was elected as its president in 1957.
In 1959 he was transferred to San Diego. The two children, Lee and Joy, joined the act at that time, though most of their time was spent in practice rather than performance.
But in 1963 with another move to Crown Point, Ind., "The Juggling Jacksons" began performing regular around the Chicago area through the Howard Schultz Agency. The feature attraction was what Bob called "The Big Act" - four people passing. It began with Bob and Lois doing take-aways. Eventually Lee and Joy joined in for four-person take-aways. Then back to Bob and Lois and three club passing, including two-handed throws by ambidextrous Lois, novelty passes by Bob and "the John Behann Trick" - one club caught under the leg, the next behind the back and a quick turn to catch the third one. The finale was a series of rapid behind the back passes.
Next they continued with four club passing, culminating in the club between the legs catch. Next it was rapid six club passing. Then Joy, Lois and Bob juggled in a line formation with a walkaround to change places and Lee walked between them while he juggled. With all the walking and juggling, this was always interesting in a tight space. But their precision was sharpened with a lot of practice in the living room at home.
Lastly, all four jugglers criss-crossed in the box pattern, which then transformed into a three-way feed. All routines were done on precise counts, because the speed of the juggling prevented verbal cues. As a finale, they used a drawn-out comedy routine in which they knocked a cigar out of the mouth of an audience volunteer.
After the family moved to Tennessee in 1966, the act eventually grew to seven members as brothers and sister Jay, Joni and Jeff cameoed in a segment. More often than not, The Juggling Jacksons were not just an act in a show, but the whole show! Bob opened with a comedy act that included ball juggling, devil sticks, basketball spinning and clubs. Then Joy would perform an acrobatic act similar to the one formerly done by Lois. And finally "The Big Act" would fill the stage with a fast and furious display of precision passing.
In the 1970s as family members went on to other pursuits, The Juggling Jacksons came to an end as an act. But the interest in juggling as a family heritage continued. Every Christmas, birthday or anniversary brought a juggling memento, picture or book. Bob continued to juggle for fun, and Bob and Lois frequented IJA and regional festivals. Bob gained the admiration of others through his willingness to help them, and he and Lois would always astound folks with a display of their incredibly quick passing.
Bob would be the first to admit there were plenty of other jugglers better than him. But as a juggling entertainer, he was one of the best. He had performance integrity - working hard to give the best he could in the best way he could to entertain the audience.
Many IJA members saw and talked to him at the L.A. festival this summer, but few knew that he was ailing at the time. He died less than two months later, September 9, 1990, at age 67. Take a bow, Bob. You deserve it.