Frank Jackson, Pierson dining hall icon, set to retire after 17 years at Yale
Jackson, dining hall staff and students reflect on his life and time at the University.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
Frank Jackson, well-known around campus for his friendly demeanor and affection toward Yalies in the Pierson College dining hall, will retire after seventeen years at Yale.
For the past eight years, Jackson — fondly known as “Uncle Frank” to students — has been a warm presence in the Pierson College dining hall. His time in Pierson follows a long career at Yale Hospitality, including work in catering and at the Grace Hopper, Stiles and Morse College dining halls. Beloved by Yale community members, Jackson will leave behind a legacy of service to the University and support for those around him. While coworkers and students alike praised him for his kindness, Jackson reflected on his life and career as he looks toward retirement.
“When you come here in the dining hall, I say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ because I really want to know how you’re doing. I want to know if you’re okay, because if you’re not, then I’m going to help you in any way I can,” Jackson said. “The dining hall to me is a place of rejuvenation.”
Jackson, who is 65, spent much of his childhood in Montgomery, Alabama. Since he grew up in the country, surrounded by “pigs, chickens, cows, mules and a big old garden,” he is excited to return to his roots by moving back to the Southern states with his wife. He plans on taking up fishing once he retires, emphasizing the importance of “coexisting with everything else around you.”
Long before he came to work at the University, Jackson found his life intertwined with Yale. When he first moved to New Haven in 1965 at the height of the Civil Rights movement, he watched Yale students march and protest against racial division. From elementary school to high school, he received tutoring from Yale undergraduates through the Ulysses S. Grant Program, which supports academically talented New Haven public school students.
He went on to study at Gateway Community College for two years before serving as a military police officer in the U.S. Air Force for six years. Although he enjoyed working in law enforcement, he decided to work in the printing industry upon his return to New Haven instead of becoming a police officer. After a 20-year career in reprographics, he took up jobs in construction and food facilities before coming to Yale to work in catering.
He drew on his strongest memories of “surviving” throughout his time in New Haven and at Yale. Indeed, Jackson’s life has been marked by resilience — apart from growing up amid the struggle for Civil Rights, he endured the shooting death of his father at age nine, which shook his world. Previously, he was always “taught the Jacksons were invincible.”
“My utmost favorite and most memorable thing is surviving through everything. Surviving family events and issues, surviving street events and issues, surviving life events and issues,” Jackson said. “Surviving going to the military and coming home, surviving signing on that dotted line to give my life and to defend this great nation.”
Jackson wants Yale students to protect themselves, too. A formal martial arts instructor, he talked about being “fearless” and telling Yale students they must survive, no matter how afraid they may be in the face of problems like climate change and the threat of war and attacks. At the end of the day, Jackson said he wants everyone to survive to make it home to their families, encouraging Yalies “to go to Grandma’s birthday party, because grandmas are very special.”
Students reflected on their positive experiences with Jackson in the dining hall. Wini Aboyure ’25, who is in Davenport College, shared that despite her belonging to a different residential college, Jackson has always gone out of his way to make her feel welcome. She laughed as she recounted multiple memories where Jackson taught her how to make a “fist with the thumb on the outside, in case [she] needs to fight someone.” Meanwhile, Pierson students Hannah Hernandez ’23 and Zoe Colfax ’25 described the emotional support Jackson has provided them.
“Frank has been a great friend and mentor to me,” said Colfax. “Frank knows when something has upset me or I am feeling stressed and he is always the first person to check in on me.”
Hernandez spoke to Jackson’s genuine concern for her feelings and wellbeing, noting that they have had many heartfelt conversations in the past year and a half since she transferred to Yale. She pointed to Jackson as a source of comfort while living far from home during college. Since Jackson had spent over a year overseas while serving in the Air Force, he feels especially in-tune with students’ feelings.
Regulars at the Pierson dining hall know Jackson often greets students and coworkers with hugs and fist-bumps. Jackson said he has always tried to interact with students as equals and “on the same level as human beings,” reaching out to almost every student who comes into the dining hall. He loves interacting with the students, and has enjoyed watching them grow during their time at Yale.
“Seeing the students come in as freshmen, and seeing the transition that they go through, the metamorphosis they go through … that’s a favorite as well,” Jackson said. “And another is just my coworkers, who are another diverse group, and who also go through a transformation throughout the years of working at Yale.”
Precious Greenwood, who has worked with Jackson in the Pierson dining hall for eleven years, said that he has been a helpful presence for her throughout their time together. She and other staff enjoy listening to Jackson’s stories every morning and shared that they appreciate the way he interacts with students.
Outside of the dining hall, Jackson has liked attending Yale sports games and theater productions. He also often goes to events hosted by Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center, especially enjoying gospel choir performances. A constant presence in his students’ lives, he has attended commencement ceremonies and reunions whenever possible, appreciating that students can return to each other.
Once he retires, Jackson will join his wife of 35 years, Diane, who retired from working at Yale New Haven Hospital two years ago. He has two daughters, and he hopes to make day trips to visit other family members in the South once he moves. He also plans to rescue two puppies before he leaves New Haven and to give them “Yale names.” Currently, “Pierson” and “Hopper” are contenders.
“We’re going to miss him. We love him and wish him the best,” said Greenwood. “We’ll miss his way of how he interacts with all of us, and leaning on him at all times. We know we can depend on him and his spirit.”
Jackson plans to celebrate his retirement this August with a cookout at East Rock.
Correction, April 29: A previous version of this article contained an incorrect age for Jackson.