Remembering the life and legacy of Kevin "Catfish" Jackson

Kevin Jackson passed in the quiet hours this morning, just before dawn, around 5:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

Jackson, who was born on June 2, 1961, was a man of strong faith, whose guide light was grounded in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Jackson was given his nickname “Catfish” by Erk Russell, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame coach. Russell said that Jackson fought like a cat and drank like a fish - and that nickname stuck for over four decades.  

Jackson was fond of saying that life has the three G’s - you either give up, give in, or give it all you got. Catfish gave it all he had.

Jackson came from humble beginnings, growing up in Cartersville, Georgia, he rarely left Bartow County. His father built the cabin where the family lived, and his mother’s family were sharecroppers. Jackson considered dropping out of school with aspirations to work as a lineman for Georgia Power, but his high school football coach inspired him to become a “generation changer” for his family - pairing his athleticism and education.

He would say, “the old rule still goes, treat people like you want to be treated and it works.”

Jackson married the love of his life, Libby Saye, on May 2, 1987 at The Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, Georgia.

Kevin listed his children as his greatest achievement - Elizabeth (Tyler) Sumner, Kev (Kate) Jackson, and Mary Margaret (Thomas) Cone.

“I literally married the love of my life and she has been in it every single way with me - all of the ups and downs - my wife was the rock of the family and she held everything together - three great kids,” he said in an interview when he was inducted into the 2023 Junior Achievement Savannah Business Hall of Fame.

“I can’t tell you how much I love being a grandfather, and of course we spoil them rotten - there is nothing like it - feed them all of the candy that we can - we give them ice cream in the morning - whatever they want - and then we hand them back,” Jackson said of his role as grandfather.

Kevin and Libby have seven grandchildren - Jackson Sumner, Baker Sumner, Will Sumner, Trip Jackson, Sara Collins Jackson, Field Cone and Luke Cone.

Kevin Jackson was a fixture at Savannah Christian Preparatory School, whether it was coaching football, reading to the students, volunteering to teach “wild game cooking” during Arts Blitz week, or unveiling the dedication plaque outside of the new weight room. 

R. Kevin Jackson attended the University of Georgia (1979 - 1983) and played football for two coaching legends, head coach Vince Dooley and defensive coordinator Erk Russell.

He was a three-year letterman who was voted co-captain of the 1983 squad, and a member of the teams that won the 1980 national championship and three SEC titles. He earned the prestigious Coach Wally Butts award for “the player who pays the price” which was voted on by the coaches. In 1984, he became a graduate assistant coach under Coach Vince Dooley, and the team went on to win the Cotton Bowl.

He graduated from UGA with a degree in Business Education. 

Playing for Hall of Fame Coach Dooley, and renowned motivator Coach Russell, no doubt had an impact on how Jackson ran his businesses and communicated with his players and staff.

Russell taught Jackson more than just x’s and o’s, in addition, he told him, “You hire great people and be great to them, and great things are going to happen.”

With this background anchored in hard work and enthusiastic communication, Jackson started what would be a career in sales. “One of my God given talents is being able to sell.”

He began his sales career in 1985 as a salesman for Georgia Fastener and Safety Company in Savannah, Georgia. Next, Jackson went on to serve as Vice President of Marketing at Scapa Group. 

And, in what would become his business legacy, in May 1999, he founded EnviroVac Holdings, LLC, a company dedicated to environmental and industrial cleaning services.

Under his leadership, EnviroVac grew from a company of four employees to over 1,000 staff members, with offices in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Jackson remained as President and CEO of the company until his passing. 

From humble beginnings, living in the cabin that his dad built in Cartersville, to the affluent Long Point family residence in Savannah, Catfish recognized, “I’ve lived the American Dream. I was an entrepreneur who wanted to be a coach and I got to do both,” Jackson said.

As the city of Savannah, Bulldog Nation and SCPS bid farewell to a titan among men, Kevin “Catfish” Jackson's legacy endures - a beacon of hope, inspiration, and resolve. His words serve as a guiding light for generations yet to come: 

“Success comes with hard work and determination! Do not be ordinary; be extraordinary! God gives us direction with His love, patience, joy, and forgiveness in our every step, and for this, we give Him all the glory.” – Kevin “Catfish” Jackson.

COMMUNITY MEMBERS REFLECT

Savannah Christian Preparatory School

Carl Carter - SCPS Coach:
“He was a hell of a football coach. When we were playing McIntosh County, Kevin got the players new black pants - it fired us all up, and we won the game.

Kevin took care of the team - none of the coaches had to drive a school bus because Kevin got us charter buses - and he bought meals for the kids. We would talk about Jesus and have good times. He took care of me and my family. I just love the guy.”

Kempie Womble - SCPS Coach:
“In football, there are those who impact your life, that leave a mark on the hearts and minds of all who knew them. Coach Jackson was one such individual - a giant of the game, a mentor, and a friend. As I look back on the countless hours spent on the gridiron alongside Coach Jackson, I have many memories of laughter and great dedication. Together, we formed a dynamic duo, him at the helm of the defense line, myself steering the offensive line, and our players caught in the crossfire of our friendly rivalry. His passion for the game was matched only by his love for those around him. I'll never forget the day he reached out, a few years removed from coaching, to express how much he missed our times together and to remind me of our friendship. That simple gesture spoke volumes about the kind of man he was. He will be missed but never forgotten.”

Baker Woodward - SCPS Coach:
“Since I first met Kevin Jackson in 2018, there was no mistake he had the biggest heart for serving others. He always asked, ‘What can I do for you and the team, coach?’ That’s who he was. He cared and wanted to help in any way he could whether it was speaking to our football team, purchasing our team meal, sending over an ice cream truck, or just coming over to talk football. He made a huge impact on our community here at SCPS, and he will be severely missed.”

Will Austin - SCPS football player, class of 2012:
“Coach Jackson pushed us on and off the field, even when we thought that we were done - that meant the world to us as players. Coach Jackson never met a stranger - that is what we, the kids, the players, loved about him.”

Donald Martin, Jr. - Chair, Board of Trustees, SCPS
“First and foremost, on behalf of the entire Board of Trustees of Savannah Christian Preparatory School, I want to express our deepest heartfelt condolences and love for Libby, our dear friend and fellow Trustee, and the entire Jackson family. Kevin was a pillar in the SCPS community, possessing a heart of love and caring for all our students and the entire school. He was at the very heart of what it means to be a “Raider”. With a personality that illuminated any room in which he entered, Kevin was a man of God with a strong faith and vast love for his family and friends, that inspired, warmed and strengthened the spirit and lifted each of us up to strive to be our very best in his presence. His passing leaves an enormous void in the Raider Family, but his life of caring and giving, his faith and values, and his strength will persevere through the many lives in which he touched. May Almighty God hold all of the family in the palms of His hands offering comfort, grace and understanding, now and in the coming days.”

Jeff Plunk - Head of School, SCPS
“Kevin Jackson is part of the fabric of our school, and he is an invaluable member of the Savannah Christian community.  It is impossible to tell the story of SCPS without talking about Kevin and the Jackson family.  Everyone knows how much he and Libby have given to our school, but not many know everything they have done behind the scenes to support our students, our faculty, and our community.”

Bill Daniel - Retired Vice President, Vaden Automotive Group - Board of Trustees, SCPS:
“Kevin Jackson represented the American spirit as an entrepreneur and self made businessman.  He changed lives with his commitment to our community and our state.

We were grateful that he volunteered to coach Raider football, and he continued to help our young people after they finished high school and college, to ensure that they were successful in life. He will always be a part of the Savannah Christian family and always a part of our Story. We are so very blessed that he came our way!  Whether it be in sports or business life, he was always a leader.”

Brynn Grant - Board of Trustees, SCPS:
“My family has known Kevin since I was a child and we lived in Cartersville for a short time. He and my brother were in school together.  We reconnected when he joined the Savannah Economic Development Authority board. He’s been like a brother to me ever since - he’s been like a brother to so many. He lived life to the fullest and loved his family more than anything.

He was a huge supporter of the United Way. Because of him we were able to get his good friend Jay Wilson to chair this year‘s campaign effort.  When Kevin supported you, you believed you could do anything.

What do you say at a time like this? He’s truly one of the most amazing humans I’ve ever known.”

Jamie McCurry - Board of Trustees, SCPS:
“It is difficult to put into succinct words how much of a positive influence Catfish has been to me and my family. He calls me little brother, and I am absolutely honored to call him the big brother that I never had. He also considers my dad to be his mentor, which, in my opinion, is among the highest compliments on can be given.

While our daughter was battling cancer last year, Kevin and his family were extraordinarily supportive, and he was relentless in his prayers and acts of kindness and encouragement to all of us. The things that he was able to do for her, gave her much of the confidence and determination she needed to keep her head up and driving forward. I will never be able to thank Catfish enough for all that he has done for me and my family. 

There are so many priceless Catfish stories to tell and memories to share. Above all else, I’ll remember his genuine love and happiness. 

I love Kevin and his family as if they were my own.  And he would probably respond that we are in fact family.”

Cliff McCurry - former Board of Trustees, SCPS:
“Kevin recently told me to enjoy everyday, there is nothing that you take with you. It has been a hard year for me, my wife passed away in November and my granddaughter has had cancer - all I ever had to do was call Kevin for anything that I needed, he was such a blessing in my life.  I couldn’t have had a better friend and a better support than “Catfish”.

When Kevin walked into a room, he lit it up, there was nothing like it.  No one was a better ambassador for Savannah than Kevin was.”  

Chris Harmon - former Head of School, SCPS (2016 - 2022):
"There are those people in life who make everybody around them better; this was Kevin Jackson. While Kevin may have been larger than life, I knew him as a man who loved people. Whether coaching students or pushing them to be the best person they could be, Kevin constantly provided support and encouragement. Every interaction with him was focused on providing a better environment for our students to learn and excel in life. Kevin was extraordinarily generous with his time, talents, and resources and never asked for anything in return."

University of Georgia - Bulldog Nation

Barbara Dooley - widow of Coach Vince Dooley:
“Everything that Kevin did, he did with 100% energy, and 100 miles per hour.  That is one reason that Vince loved him as a coach, because he gave everything he had.

There was always a special relationship between them, Kevin was as close to Vince as he was his own father, and Vince felt that same about Kevin. He had a big heart - he gave to every cause, and everybody - he picked up the pieces. I can’t think of a better person or a better friend.  I can’t think of anyone that Vince admired more than Kevin Jackson.”

Kirby Smart - Head Football Coach, University of Georgia:
“Kevin Jackson, known to me as Catfish, was not only a Bulldog letterman and supporter, but my friend.  He was an excellent husband and father to Libby and their children as well as grandfather to their grandchildren.  He was also dedicated to his faith and community.  I could go on and on about his involvements and accolades, but the bottom line is that Catfish was a great guy and would do anything for anyone.  He will be sorely missed by the Bulldog Nation and I am deeply saddened that my friend is gone far too soon.  I hope everyone who knew him will uphold his legacy by offering a hand and kind smile like Catfish always did.”

Mike Cavan - Coach, University of Georgia:
“Kevin was a one of a kind person.  He had the biggest heart I’ve ever known. He kept up with people, and he was the first one there if you needed anything, he was right there for you, the most giving person.

Kevin was always in an upbeat mood - always volunteering to help with whatever project you needed, no matter what the need, he was there for it. Foremost, he was a husband, father, and grandfather. His faith and belief in the Lord carried him. When he went on a mission, you better get out of the way.”

Donald Chumley - UGA teammate:
“I met Kevin when I was a freshman at UGA - he was my “big brother”.  I would not be where I am today without Kevin.  I owe him everything.  He will always be a part of me, we have been through so many awesome times together.  Kevin took care of everyone around him - he loved taking care of people.  I will always be grateful for Kevin.”

Frank Ros - UGA teammate:
“Catfish has always been a bigger-than-life personality.  His intensity and competitiveness served him well on the football field and helped us win a National Championship and many games at UGA during his playing career.  He translated these traits into the business world and built a very successful company and became a formidable business and community leader.  What people may not be as aware of is his big heart.  He was always willing to give of his time and resources to help others.  He and Libby did a great job of raising three well-adjusted children which is the greatest legacy one can have.  Plus, he was a lot of fun to be around.  He will definitely be missed.  May he RIP!”

Keith Middleton - UGA teammate:
“The last time I saw Kevin he thanked me for giving him some advice about a situation that happened while we were at UGA.  I had forgotten all about it, but it was important to him to thank me.  "Catfish" had no ulterior motive to bring it up except to give thanks to a teammate.  Kevin always seemed to give people a reason to like him.  What a great teammate to have on your side!”

Jody Tanner - UGA student manager:
“I have known Catfish since we were Freshmen at UGA in 1979; I was a student manager.  Catfish always brought the excitement and party with childlike enthusiasm and boundless energy.  He is a big person with a bigger personality, but he was also a kind person.  As managers we were not exactly on the level of these highly recruited athletes at Georgia, yet Catfish never made the distinction; we were as close and important to him and any other member of the team.  Catfish always had a smile on his face, laughter about to break out, and a heart willing to give.  I love him like a brother and grieve that we didn’t have more time together.  May He Rest In Peace and may God grant peace to Kevin’s wonderful family.  I pray that his booming laughter and lightheartedness will remain at the forefront of their memories of Pops!”

Elected Officials

Governor Brian Kemp:
"Marty, the girls, and I are heartbroken by the passing of Kevin Jackson, better known as Catfish to those who know and love him.  He was a Damn Good Dawg whose generosity and business acumen made not only his community better, but also the lives of all those he touched.  We are truly blessed to have been able to know him all these years.  Kevin’s family and loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

Attorney General Chris Carr:
“Kevin “Catfish” Jackson had a larger-than-life, booming personality that filled every room he entered with joy and laughter.

Nobody had a bigger heart, stronger drive or deeper passion for the people of Savannah and the state of Georgia than Catfish. 

His generosity toward all people knew no bounds, and his loyalty to his family and friends was fierce. It is impossible to measure this loss and even more difficult to imagine our state without Catfish.”

Mayor Van Johnson - City of Savannah:
“As a member of the legendary 1980 Georgia Bulldogs National Championship team, well before we became accustomed to winning national championships, Catfish was our very own hometown hero personified. His large physical presence was dwarfed by his business acumen and philanthropic efforts.  We have suffered a tremendous loss in our community.”

Congressman Buddy Carter:
“Kevin Jackson was literally bigger than life - he had a big personality, and an even bigger heart.  He loved life and he loved his family; and if you were a friend of his, you were his family.  He was the epitome of a community leader.  His passing leaves a giant void in our community and in our hearts.”

Senator Ben Watson:
“Our families have been friends for over 30 years.  Kevin was larger than life, full of enthusiasm, and an intelligent person.  It didn’t matter if you were a CEO or a person with modest means, he didn’t care - he would do anything for you.  He was a wonderful person; an all around good guy.  He will be missed.” 

Senator Derek Mallow:
“Kevin Catfish Jackson was a great Georgian and a darn good dawg!  Kevin and I would disagree on some political points, but we agreed on workforce development.  Even when we disagreed, Kevin would tell me that was on one issue, and that we can disagree on a singular issue, and to not take it personally - that we can work together and get it done - we can always work together because there is always going to be another issue coming.”

Representative Ron Stephens:
“He has meant so much to so many people and he hasn’t asked for anything in return; that is unusual, especially in politics.  He was more of a giver in every way.”

Representative Edna Jackson:
“My heart goes out to the family of Kevin.  Catfish was truly a friend of mine.  I always considered him a person that I could talk to - there were times that we didn’t agree, but we always maintained a friendship.  Many people weren’t aware of how he helped people in our community - he took care of them unconditionally.”

Sheriff John Wilcher - Chatham County:
“I knew Kevin for a very long time and he never turned anyone away.  He always wanted to help people.  I can’t imagine a world without Kevin Jackson; he will be someone remembered in this community for a very long time.”

Greg Dozier - TCSG Commissioner:
"It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the passing of Kevin Jackson, a dedicated member of the State Workforce Development Board.  Kevin’s unwavering commitment to advancing workforce development initiatives in our state has left a lasting mark on technical education in Georgia.  Kevin’s tireless efforts to foster collaboration between industry leaders, educational institutions, and government agencies have helped grow a skilled workforce in the Peach State.  All of us at the Technical College System of Georgia extend our deepest condolences to Kevin's family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time.  He will be remembered fondly for his invaluable contributions and steadfast dedication to building a stronger, more prosperous Georgia for generations to come.”

Faith and Friends:

Rev. Michael White - Rector of Christ Church Episcopal
“The reason I think so many people love Kevin is that along with his big personality, he had a heart of love and care for others that is even greater.  He was comfortable with people of all walks of life.  He lived life at a high level and was equally likely to be laughing for joy or shedding a tear of emotion.  He felt everything so deeply.  I am blessed to have shared with him in the marriages of his two daughters and at the baptisms of all his grandchildren.  He loved his family, his friends, this city, state, and country… Kevin Jackson was one of a kind and is truly loved by all who knew him."

Reed Dulany - Friend:
"One of the most cherished moments in my life came in 2004, when I had the privilege of partnering with Kevin.  I never could have imagined that would result in such a deep friendship spanning two decades, for which I will be forever grateful.  As everyone knows, KJ’s love, passion, and energy were boundless.  I have never met anyone like him and surely never will.  His smile and the sound of his voice would immediately energize any room, or stadium, that was lucky enough to have him.  Most importantly, the love, time, and positivity that he so selflessly gave to everyone he met changed lives every day - it certainly did for my family and me.  We will miss you beyond words my friend."


Richard Barrow
 - Friend:
“We started Band of Brothers together 19 years ago as an accountability group for Christian men.  Over 1,200 men from all walks of life have participated in the weekly breakfast meetings.

Kevin was a very generous person, he gave back a lot to the community.  He had a tender heart; he was a strong man who wasn’t afraid to be seen shedding a tear.”

Jack Kingston - Friend:
“Kevin was bigger than life. Measured in experiences – love of family, helping others, business or sports accomplishments - he lived 150 years. Whether it was Jesus, family football, our friends, he was always all in. The life of the party, generous, emotional and there for the cause.”

Trip Tollison - Friend:
"Catfish was like a father, brother and amazing friend all wrapped into one incredible human being. He left us too soon, but I am so very grateful for him. Catfish loved to tell folks, “Go big or go home.” Catfish always went big and now he is Home!

April 4, 2024

The city of Savannah, Bulldog Nation, and SCPS mourns…

#Catfish

Kevin’s funeral will be held at Christ Church Episcopal, 28 Bull Street on April 9, at 2:00pm with a Celebration of Life to follow at the Savannah Golf Club, 1661 East President Street.

A private family burial will be at Bulldog Haven in Oconee Hill Cemetery.

Kristy Edenfield

Freelance Correspondent
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