A Legacy of Love: Mary Emily Platt Jackson

By Leslie Moore

Mary Emily Platt Jackson, matriarch of the family that started The Jackson Companies, was known and loved by everyone who knew her. The company started by Mrs. Jackson and her husband, Nelson Jackson, now includes Ocean Lakes Family Campground, Prestwick Golf & Country Club, Ocean Lakes Properties, Ocean Lakes Golf Cars, Ocean Lakes RV Center, Crystal Lake Mobile Home Village, and the 40-acre SayeBrook Town Center. The Jackson Companies still owns in excess of 1,500 acres of undeveloped land in the Myrtle Beach area. Several divisions of The Jackson Companies have been recognized nationally in both the golf and camping industries.

The couple left a legacy of hard work and family values that lives on in their five daughters, Emily Vallarino, Laura Hoy, Kaki Williamson, Rachel Gandy and Jeanne Mize. In honor of Mother’s Day, the daughters agreed to share memories of their amazing mother and her many contributions to the development of the Grand Strand.

A Conway native, Mary Emily Platt attended Converse College on a music scholarship with a bright future ahead as an opera singer. But, when she met Nelson Jackson at a Clemson dance, all of that changed. The couple fell madly in love – marrying within a six month period. “The wedding was on a Tuesday evening,” Emily told me. “Back then, everyone did their business on Saturdays and weddings were rarely held on weekends.”

The couple settled in Nelson’s hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, and Nelson went to work in the family’s textile business. The girls spent every summer with their grandparents on the land that would eventually become Ocean Lakes Family Campground. “It was wonderful! We had free rein to roam the property.” The girls would drive their grandfather’s tractor to the beach and across Highway 17 to Crystal Lake. At that time, you didn’t have to have a driver’s license to drive a tractor on the highway!

“On Monday we could go to the Pavilion,” remembered Kaki. “You could get 12 rides for a dollar. We had to rake leaves that morning and that night Mother would take us to ride.”

Mrs. Jackson involved her daughters in the family business from the beginning. “If we wanted a new dress, we’d go pick out a pattern. If our mother couldn’t find a pattern, she would draw one,” said Emily. “In 1955, Dad converted a Trailways bus into a motor home and put the Cloth of Gold logo, his textile company, on the side. We went all over the country visiting customers and wore clothes made out of cloth sold by Daddy.” Mary Emily would dress her girls to the nines in beautiful dresses made from Cloth of Gold and have them model for potential customers.

Those trips hold many fond memories for all the Jacksons. “Our mother had us singing while we traveled – probably so we wouldn’t argue,” Jeanne said laughing. “She loved to tell a good joke – our mother was such a lady in the way she carried herself – that’s what made it so funny.” Kaki continued, “She was quiet compared to our dad, but if she had something to say you’d better listen.”

After Mary Emily’s parents died in the ‘60s, she inherited 2,500 acres of land and wanted to keep the land in the family. “They thought the best way to keep the land in the family was to start a campground,” Rachel said. “They had to make enough money to pay the taxes.”

On July 2, 1971, Ocean Lakes opened for business with only 30 campsites and one bath house. “We got the overflow,” Jeanne told me laughing. “At that time, people without reservations would camp on the side of the road.” Today the bustling campground has 859 campsites and 2,566 annual lease sites.

“Our parents wanted a place for families,” Jeanne said. “We would ask, are you a family? If they said no, they couldn’t stay. Single people couldn’t camp – you had to be married.”

“Our mother was a huge supporter of the arts,” Laura began. “She was on the Long Bay Symphony Board of Directors and was one of the first people on the Myrtle Beach Museum Board of Directors.” Along with her love of music, Mary Emily was a gifted floral designer and avid garden club member. The list of her contributions to Grand Strand society is mind boggling, especially knowing she did it all while working to build one of the largest businesses in our area

“What many people don’t realize is our parents were in their 50s when they started this business,” Kaki said “Mother would work all day, come home and cook dinner for us and then go back to work. I don’t know how she did it. All five daughters were taught the importance of customer service from an early age. “Mother did estate planning early and instilled in us a belief that our business was for the enjoyment of our customers. Both of our parents loved seeing everyone having a good time,” Rachel remembered. “They had fun and enjoyed life.”

The Jackson girls were also shown the importance of a happy marriage by their loving parents. “Mom would serve Dad breakfast in bed every morning. She was so devoted to him and he to her,” Rachel said proudly. The couple was married 68 years when Nelson died in 2010. Mary Emily died only a few months later, and her daughters believe she just couldn’t live without her beloved Nelson.

“Mother was a renaissance woman. She did not waste time and loved being busy. Everything she did, she did well – from cooking to hunting to singing her beloved opera to arranging flowers for the church every Sunday.”

When I asked each daughter to share their mother’s greatest gift to them, Kaki started, saying, “She encouraged us and gave us guidance to go out and do and be brave – this was especially important for women.”

Jeanne said, “She was our first hero – and full of courage. Our mother didn’t compare us to each other; she let us be who we were. We’ve had family meetings for about 40 years now. We were always expected to work together and to do what was best for the business.”

“We know each other’s strengths,” said Laura. Mother taught me to sew and before I moved here, I made everything I wore and everything for the house – she taught me to just do it.”

“We were all given a sense of family,” said Rachel when I asked her to share. “We all know how to love one another because of her and were encouraged to follow in her footsteps.”

I always knew the sky was the limit,” Emily told me, the love for her mother evident in her eyes. “I’m a pilot and do international business. All of my sisters have broken the glass ceiling for women in different ways, and it’s because of the example set by our mother.

Jackson family at Wodtke’s store standing with their converted 1946 Trailway bus. L to R (daughters in birth order): Emily, Laura, Rachel, Jeanne, Mary Emily and Nelson Jackson.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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5 Responses to “A Legacy of Love: Mary Emily Platt Jackson”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    It’s fun to enjoy a good read about local history.

  2. I dont know about anyone else but we could all learn something from this family! I have always taught my children that family is your foundation! We can all learn from each other and nobody will be there like they will! I love ocean lakes for this very reason! Thank you ladies for sharing more of your story! It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your talents togethet!

  3. Judy Clark says:

    I worked 13 years at the Jackson Company as day shift security supervisor and can say this was the best company that I have worked for ,I made the mistake of saying that I worked for them and was quickly corrected that I did not work for them ,but with them ,Mr and Mrs Jackson treated everybody as family ,I can truly say that they were a remarkable couple that is greatly missed by all.

  4. great article–wonderful family

  5. Rose Ann says:

    Such an inspiring family! Thanks for sharing their story with us, Leslie.

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