Iconic social writer Beverley Jackson leaves behind her legacy of adventure
Vibrant Montecito resident Beverley Jackson knew how to tell a story.
In fact, she was revered for her comical accounts about meeting celebrities and movie stars in the 1970s and ’80s.
The adventurous writer and traveler documented those years and the social scene of Santa Barbara in the News-Press for 25 years.
Often referred to as the doyenne of the city, Ms. Jackson was very involved in her community, from working on committees to throwing parties with hundreds of people in attendance.
The beloved resident died Thursday morning from natural causes. She was 91.
The writer with an active life developed a strong admiration for Chinese culture, becoming an expert and adamantly researching and collecting Chinese clothing and art. One of her most famous books, titled “Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition,” went into great detail about the former practice of binding the feet of Chinese girls.
She wrote seven books, and her “By the Way” column featured numerous big names, such as Montecito chef Julia Child, Ollie Carey and Florence Chadwick.
Ms. Jackson, a Los Angeles native, grew up in Beverly Hills and was an avid traveler, visiting China in particular several times.
Her daughter, Tracey Jackson, said she was constantly on an adventure.
“She would pick me up and tell me, ‘We’re going to Yugoslavia.’ We’d be on a plane to Yugoslavia when nobody even knew where it was,” her daughter told the News-Press. “She always had great adventures. She gave me that, and I’ve passed that onto my children.”
Tracey is Ms. Jackson’s only child, and lives between California and New York. She’s a writer and has two daughters, Taylor and Lucy.
“She was bigger than life. She couldn’t sit still,” Tracey said. “Between the News-Press and the environment of Santa Barbara and so many extraordinary people coming through the city, she had access to that and took advantage of it.”
Tracey said her mother was a “master of reinvention.”
“After the News-Press, she reinvented herself in her 60s to be this Chinese expert. She turned herself into an artist where she was painting and doing collages,” Tracey said. “She understood (reinvention) somehow intrinsically before women really knew how to do that.”
Ms. Jackson was known for showing up “habitually late” to parties. Tracey said she loved getting dressed in fancy clothing and jewelry and arriving at a party to greet everyone and light up the room.
“She loved Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara loved her back,” Tracey said. “That made her life complete.”
While Ms. Jackson did not contract the coronavirus, Tracey said the isolation during the pandemic could very well have played a part in her death.
“I think it (COVID-19) is something important to think about because it’s really affecting people. Several of her friends died from isolation and not being able to live their lives anymore,” Tracey said. “I don’t think she thought she would live to see a vaccine, but it slowed down her desire and energy.
“She loved food. She loved to cook, but she just stopped eating. It wasn’t her. She always said if she ever stopped writing or stopped throwing parties or stopped traveling, she would die. I think she was right.”
Erin Graffy, also a former social writer for the News-Press, said she knew of Ms. Jackson from growing up in Santa Barbara.
“When I came back and finished college, I started reading the newspaper, and I said, ‘Who is this lady who has this job where she goes to these parties and meets these celebrities, and she gets to write about it and gets paid to do it?’” Ms. Graffy said. “I was totally in awe of her.”
Ms. Graffy said that while she was writing for a local arts magazine, she got to interview Ms. Jackson, and the two hit it off right away.
“I thought she would be very hoity toity, but instead, she was so down to earth,” Ms. Graffy said. “Outside her condo, I was expecting to see fancy shoes, and instead, she had tennis shoes. I thought, ‘Surely, the Beverley Jackson would not be wearing ordinary tennis shoes.’ She was so delightful.”
Ms. Graffy worked closely with Ms. Jackson on a project where Ms. Jackson decided to give her large collection of more than 600 photographs she’d taken with famous people and movie stars to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Ms. Graffy helped her curate the exhibit and said it was “fabulous, fabulous fun.”
The two would have lunch at her home that was well-known as a “museum,” and Ms. Graffy attended her parties as well.
“She would have 100-plus people coming in the place,” she said. “She would have young and old and knew everybody. She really loved people.”
Ms. Graffy said coming from Beverly Hills gave Ms. Jackson many connections. However, her friend concluded that it wasn’t just her upbringing that gave her such prominence in the social scene.
“She truly loved people and was terribly interested in anything and everything they were doing,” Ms. Graffy recalled. “If somebody came into town that was new, she would hunt them down and write a story about it.”
She continued that she and her mother would poke fun at Ms. Jackson for how vividly she would describe food items in her articles.
“It was not just in the usual reporting fashion. She would have this magical, charming way of scooping it all up.”
Ms. Graffy noted that Ms. Jackson converted to Catholicism in the last few years of her life, and her “spiritual calling and awakening” was a “real spark” in her.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the funeral services will be kept private to immediate family. However, Tracey said that when a vaccine is developed and gathering is safe once again, she intends on throwing a big bash in Ms. Jackson’s honor.
“I want to give her a goodbye in the style to which she lived,” Tracey said. “She deserves that kind of sendoff.”
In 2016, Ms. Jackson was interviewed by the News-Press about her Chinese history exhibition and her work in the 1970s and ’80s.
“I was very graciously adopted by Santa Barbara,” she told the News-Press. “It was a very special period in Santa Barbara’s history, and I’m very glad I was a part of it.”
Ms. Jackson is survived by her daughter, Tracey Jackson, 62, and her two granddaughters — Taylor Templeton, 29, and Lucy Horowitz, 20.