Roger Jackson has offered impressive accomplishments as an athlete and leader in the Canadian and international Olympic movements, as a visionary faculty member at the University of Calgary and as a longstanding and effective community volunteer.
Roger Charles Jackson was born in Toronto on January 14, 1942 to Harold C. Jackson and Helen Marion Jackson (Hisey) and he and his siblings Martha Anne, Kathryn Helen and Robert Thomas were raised in the city. Since few people in those post-war years had money to spend on organized sports, Roger and his friends often took to local parks and playgrounds for informal pick up games of all sorts. A keen student, Roger also participated on numerous sports teams including football, hockey and basketball.
When it came time to attend the University of Western Ontario, Roger sought out a new athletic challenge to pursue alongside his academic studies. He discovered his calling through a campus poster that read: Rowing. Desire is the Only Prerequisite. The freshman student and rower had drawn inspiration from the Canadian men’s eight rowing team who were the nation’s only athletes to earn a medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. As he explored the sport, Roger found that he had more than the passion it takes to succeed in rowing. He also possessed the skill and endurance needed to perform at an elite level.
Roger completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963 and began graduate studies at the University of Toronto. Shortly into the program, the hope of taking part in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics prompted a transfer to the University of British Columbia and the rowing program that had produced Canada’s medal winning team in Rome. He bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver and earned a spot in a UBC boat. With a dogged dedication to nothing but studies and rowing, Roger earned a spot at the 1964 Olympic Games as a member of Canada’s rowing pairs. It was Roger’s first international event but the countless hours of training paid off. Canada’s rowers were once again on the Olympic podium, but this time it was Roger Jackson and George Hungerford and the medal was gold.
In 1967, Roger completed a Master of Physical Education degree and went on to doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin, which also boasted an excellent rowing program. He represented Canada at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and also had the honour of serving as Canada’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies. Just prior to the Games, Roger married Linda Hurford whom he had met two years previously at a rowing regatta near San Francisco.
In 1971, Roger graduated with a PhD in Biodynamics. He then undertook a year of post-doctoral study at the University of Copenhagen. A year later, he represented Canada at the Munich Olympic Games, marking the end of his career as an Olympic competitor and the beginning of a new chapter in his life. In 1971, an enticing job offer from the Government of Canada lured Roger and Linda back home from Copenhagen. Roger’s task was to prepare Canada’s athletes and governing bodies for the challenges of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, and to build the roots of a national program that would foster high performance sport across the nation beyond the Olympic year.
His efforts with Sport Canada were successful and likely would have continued apace had he not received a job offer from the President of the University of Calgary who saw Roger as the right person to achieve a new vision set out for the school’s Faculty of Physical Education. In 1978, the Jackson family moved to Alberta and Roger began developing the nascent faculty’s programs and facilities. They found the province to be welcoming and a good fit. Roger also discovered that the Alberta spirit and entrepreneurial bent were useful tools as plans emerged to prepare a bid to host the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. For ten years, he played a key role with the Calgary Game’s bid and organizing committees and also worked to make the U of C an active partner in the endeavour. By the end of Roger’s term as Dean of Physical Education in 1988, the city had hosted the exceptionally successful 1988 Winter Games and his faculty was home to an impressive array of research and graduate study programs as well as new facilities such as the iconic Calgary Olympic Oval. Throughout this busy period, Roger was also a father to three growing sons: Christopher and Alex who were born in Ottawa in 1973 and 1976 respectively, and Geoffrey who was born in Calgary in 1979. Roger acknowledges that Linda was the one who deserved a gold medal for raising their family while he worked and travelled the world on Olympic and Faculty business.
In 1988, Roger transferred his focus to new duties as founding director of the U of C’s Sport Medicine Centre. The facility, which he developed into a centre of excellence in sport medicine and bone and joint research, is now called the Roger Jackson Centre for Health and Wellness Research in his honour. Roger retired from the U of C in 2004 and began taking on private contracts helping develop bids to host Olympic Games. Roger and Linda moved to England while he worked full time on helping develop London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. But once again, Roger received a job offer from home that was too tempting to ignore.
The couple returned to Canada in 2005 and Roger became founding CEO of Own the Podium, a nation-wide program to prepare Canadian high performance athletes for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. Canadians themselves were able to witness the success of the program, as the nation’s athletes mounted the podium to receive a record-setting number of gold medals.
Roger Jackson’s long list of contributions to sport on the national and international stage over the years includes service as President of the Canadian Olympic Association, as a many-time volunteer on several International Olympic Committee projects, and as chair of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. He is a recipient of the IOC and Canadian Olympic Orders and a member of numerous sports halls of fame. He holds a Honourary Doctor of Science degree from the University of New Brunswick, and an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Calgary. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada.
While sport has played a significant role in his life and his contributions to society, Roger has also found other ways to serve. For example, in 2001 he began service as chairman of the Cantos Music Foundation which is now the National Music Centre. The work taps into a love of music that Roger has carried since childhood. His task with the Centre is to provide leadership and support for the staff, operations and programs, and for the current development of a major new facility in Calgary. This national centre will foster Canada’s musicians in new and innovative ways while also helping Canadians of all ages and levels of ability to explore the beauty and power of music.
Roger has said of receiving acknowledgement for a job well done that, “if someone says at the end ‘thank you’…as simple as that…then that’s all that’s required.” But his fellow Albertans and Canadians would no doubt counter that contributions like his efforts that inspire others to dream and to achieve great things, are worthy of more substantial recognition. Roger Jackson has changed the face of sport in Canada. He served his province and nation with honour, and he has earned the highest praise we have to offer.