Beloved custodian to retire after 50 years

Sam Marks and Ellida Parker

A lot has happened at Wilson since 1968. In the past half-century, the student body integrated, students protested the Vietnam War and the election of Donald Trump, the school underwent a renovation, thousands of students and teachers have come and gone, and seven principals have led the school.

There’s one person in the building who has witnessed this all: custodian Larry Jackson, who will retire this June after more than 50 years at Wilson.

“Time just shot right by, it’s hard to remember it all,” Jackson said.

For nearly every weekday during the past five decades, Jackson has arrived at Wilson at 6 a.m to unfold the cafeteria tables and open the front doors. He’s taken care of just about every part of the building: he has kept up the gardens around the grounds, he has marked the field for sporting events, he has cleaned the bleachers and cafeteria after lunch. “There’s no one who knows this building inside and out the way Mr. Jackson does,” said Principal Martin. “I don’t know what we’re going to do without him,” she said.

Jackson grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when racism and Jim Crow still persisted in the South. Following the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in 1963, Jackson moved to DC. He was 18 at the time.

When he got to DC, Jackson worked as a custodian at John Eaton Elementary and Kelly Miller middle school before ending up at Wilson in 1968. He fondly recalls seeing Wilson students in the hallway who he had played basketball with when those same students were elementary students at John Eaton. “I followed them kids until they actually graduated out of Wilson,” he said.

These days, the kids he knows best are the students involved in the theater and the robotics lab. “Whenever they’re having plays or whatever they’re having on the stage, the theater kids come to me to ask me for things. And the robotics team, they come to see me in the mornings and evenings,” said Jackson.

Jackson is known around the school for his reliability and for his friendliness. “Mr. Jackson has saved me from mice, and floods, and even from strangers that follow me in the building. He is a wonderful citizen,” said science teacher Angela Benjamin, who oversees the robotics lab adjacent to Mr. Jackson’s office.

“You can almost count on your fingers the days that he missed,” said Custodian James Lewis, who has worked with Jackson since 1992. “He’s always available, and he can do just about anything you need to be done. You know you can depend on him,” he said.

In retirement, Jackson looks forward to experimenting with hobbies he hasn’t yet had time to explore. “I’m going to start doing fishing, and I mean fishing every day if I can, except for the wintertime,” Jackson said. “I’m just going to go fishing or go on a cruise, travel a little bit, hopefully do my little walking, try to keep myself going.”

“I know I’m going to miss coming to work,” Jackson continued. But he says he feels ready to retire. “I figure I done did my time here,” he said.

The many years Jackson spent at Wilson defined his life. “Wilson has been my first home,” said Jackson. “It hasn’t been like my second home—it’s been my first home, because I’ve been here everyday, for all that time.”