Bo Jackson was driving urgently down New Providence Road in Alpharetta on the foggy, rainy election night of November 7, 2006, hoping and praying his – and any parent’s – worst nightmare was not about to unfold before his eyes. His wife Lauren called him a few minutes earlier when he was in a parents’ lacrosse meeting, saying their 16-year-old son Parker was late and that a car similar to his had been in an accident on the windy, still somewhat rural road that Bo was now navigating.
As the commercial real estate executive negotiated the hills and curves in the mist, Bo repeatedly redialed Parker’s cell phone, chanting “Parker, be safe, be strong” only to connect again and again with his son’s voice mail. He exhaled with relief as he drove around the last curve, thinking the accident report might have been erroneous, when he topped the final hill and saw dozens of emergency lights. “It was like a Hollywood disaster set,” Bo said.
He parked, ran towards his son’s car as a policeman tried to stop him. When he looked inside the Volvo that was crushed against a tree and didn’t see Parker, Bo turned to the officer and said, “Which hospital did you take him to? Where is he?” Bo said the next words he heard sounded like they, too, were out of a movie script – that his brain couldn’t process what he heard: “Sir, your son did not make it.”
“It was like a bolt of lightening struck my heart, shattered me and I was on the ground. I was just convulsing in tears. My nightmare had begun,” Bo said. Lauren and their younger son Ben soon joined him at the scene. As they stood there shell-shocked, Lauren’s first words were: “I refuse to let Parker’s death destroy our family.”
In a remarkably uplifting speech to 1,200 attendees at the Atlanta Real Estate Prayer Breakfast on March 1 – which you can view by clicking here – Bo said, “the devastation and depression that we experienced was indescribable.”
Bo’s Moment wasn’t when Parker died; it occurred months afterwards. “I was forced with a decision and a choice,” he says in our accompanying Moments video, filmed at Parker’s grave. “How was I gonna react to this tragedy? Was I gonna to let it bury me or was I going to rise above it?”
Bo said he grew up as “a hockey puck – a hockey player, beer pong and listening to the Rolling Stones were pretty much my life.” On one of their first dinner dates, he asked Lauren why she seemed so centered, living by what he sensed was a strong set of principles. She drew a diagram on a paper napkin, with JC at its center. “Jesus Christ is the filter I run all my decisions through,” she said. “And I remember thinking, ‘Rut-Ro’ “Bo recalled, smiling.
Lauren and others eventually helped Bo develop his faith in God, whom he credits with strengthening his family’s foundation – first as they welcomed daughter Emily, Parker and Ben and later in the aftermath of their tragedy.
The Jacksons stand in remarkable defiance of the enduring statistic that 72 percent of married couples divorce within a year of their child’s death. As he says in our video: “God never left us as we walked through this valley of death,” Bo said.
On what would have been Parker’s 17th birthday, the Jacksons took a group of Parker’s friends to the lake for a few days of celebration. When the house guests drove away, the emptiness and heartache returned, deeper than ever. Bo stood in the shower, crying, demanding that God show him a sign that He had Parker and that he was okay. Early the next morning, Bo and Lauren went canoeing quietly on the misty lake. When they entered one cove, a red-tailed hawk – Parker’s favorite animal – circled them several times. Lauren turned to Bo in tears and remarked how amazing it was that Parker’s favorite appeared before them on his birthday. Only then did Bo relate to her what he had demanded of God the night before.
Struck by the number of Parker’s lacrosse teammates and classmates at Milton High School who were led to deeper faith by Parker during his life and surrounding his funeral, Bo and Lauren decided to channel their grief into something positive and enduring that would honor the legacy of their lost son. “We thought about the fact he loved making new friends, was passionate about lacrosse and had a big faith. And we thought where those all intersect, we’ll create something called The Legacy Lacrosse Cup,” Bo said.
They poured their energy into founding The Legacy Lacrosse Cup, an annual tournament featuring one college game and a tournament challenging highly ranked middle and high school boys and girls teams from around the country.
“The centerpiece is not really about lacrosse. It’s really about communicating the point that each of those student athletes in high school is writing their life’s story and that their story matters. And that their decisions that they make each day lead them in a direction that will lead them to a destination. So how they write that story and the decisions they make are critically important,” Bo said.
Three weeks ago, 21 elite middle and high school lacrosse teams, as well as the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, headlined the fifth annual event at Milton High School. Legacy Cup has established itself as one of the favorite lacrosse events in the country, not only honoring Parker, who had been a rising sophomore star on his varsity team, but inspiring players and their families. Through its website, www.legacylacrossecup.com, and heartfelt remarks at the annual kickoff dinners, the young students are urged to enjoy the food, music and friendships they make as they compete on the field, but are challenged to ponder the greater good, to live a legacy with their lives.
“One of the things I think about a lot is we don’t control when we’re born and we don’t control when we die,” Bo said. “But we do control the dash and the dash is how you live your life while you are here. That’s the thing I focus on most, trying to make a positive difference in other peoples lives each day by being intentional in my daily thoughts and my behaviors.”
Next week in Moments: In honor of Mother’s Day, Hope Arbery, a real estate attorney home on maternity leave who discovered and started a home-based entrepreneurial business.
Video by Reid Childers of Schroder PR, public relations Atlanta.
Don’t miss previous 2013 Moments: Jay Smith, Jennifer Johnson, David Geller, Cynthia Jones Parks, Lee Katz, Keegan Federal, Brandi Helvey, Alwyn Fredericks, George McKerrow, Wright Mitchell, Shawn Wilson, Bill Bolling, Tracey Jackson, Fran Tarkenton, Drey Mingo, Andy Cash, Fred Northup, Wendy Binns, Ann Curry, Bill Clarkson, Alicia Philipp, Dennis Creech, Meredith Leapley, Raymond King, Jerry Farber, Larry Gellerstedt, Sally Bethea, Ken Thrasher, Herb Nelson.
Don’t miss previous Moments from 2012: Solon Patterson, Charles Ackerman, Santa Claus, Mark McDonald, Frank Skinner, Tom Murphy, Matt Arnett, Kasim Reed, Alana Shepherd, Charles Driebe, Hank Aaron, Kevin Rathbun, Larrie Del Martin, Mike Luckovich, Dan Matthews, Arthur Blank, Doug Hertz, Thomas Dimitroff, Jenny Levison, Brad Cunard, Joe Roberts, Plemon El-Amin, Bob Williams, Gary Price, John Dewberry, Bill Tush, Milton Little, Hope Arbery, Bo Jackson, Lisa Borders, Tom Key, Bob Voyles, Joyce Fownes, Joel Babbit, John Pruitt, Noel Khalil, Chuck Leavell, Bill Nigut, Eveylyn Winn-Dixon, Steve Nygren, Chris White, Josh Starks, Ryan Gravel, Shirley Franklin, Sam Massell and Clark Howard