Ellen “Nellie” Jackson, matriarch of the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company and trailblazer in the collector car hobby, died Wednesday, February 10 in Scottsdale, Ariz., of natural causes. She was 90 years old.
A funeral service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13 at Valley Presbyterian Church, 6947 E. McDonald Drive in Paradise Valley. The Jackson family will host a viewing from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12 at Indian School Mortuary, 7601 E. Indian School Road in Scottsdale.
Nellie was born on August 7, 1919, in Pontiac, Mich. She is survived by her son, Craig Jackson, and grandchildren, Shelby and Hunter Jackson. She was preceded in death by her husband, Russell Jackson, and son, Brian Jackson.
Throughout her life, Nellie Jackson combined an astute business sense, an open and caring personality, strong personal relationships and an appreciation for collector cars and the hobby to create an ever-growing universe of family, friends, colleagues and associates. She has been a true treasure to everyone who came to know and cherish her spirit, ethics, spunk and dedication.
As Barrett-Jackson evolved, Nellie was a constant, reliable, steady presence on the auction block and in the office. She was sought out by everyone who met her, and her friendly greetings were a reminder that, at its core, Barrett-Jackson is a family enterprise where relationships matter even as the events have grown, expanded and matured. The Michigan native’s initial automobile experience working as an accountant with Fisher Body solidified when she met and married Russ Jackson, for whom automobiles, particularly the great pre-war classics, were a passion. While raising their sons, they pursued parallel careers in retail in Pontiac — Russ at Russ’s Country Store and Nellie at the store bearing her name specializing in women’s and children’s fashions.
In 1960, Nellie and Russ moved to Scottsdale following years of family vacations to Arizona. A few years later, Russ called on Tom Barrett to inquire about a car Tom had for sale, a 1933 Cadillac V16 Town Car built for actress Joan Crawford. Although unable to find common ground on the value of Miss Crawford’s Cadillac, the Jacksons and Tom Barrett soon combined their love of old cars to start the “Fiesta de los Auto Elegance” car show in 1968 to raise money for the Scottsdale Library. The first Barrett-Jackson auction followed in 1971.
Nellie mirrored her husband’s passion and became an essential part of the hobby’s foundation by virtue of her central importance to the Barrett-Jackson auction. Nellie was in charge of the office where the auction’s commercial success relied on her business knowledge. She drew on her retail experience in building the relationships with buyers and sellers, an important role that she continued each day as the executive director of Barrett-Jackson.
The Jackson family’s influence on the hobby grew steadily in the coming years with the auction’s importance. Collectors with their cars made annual January pilgrimages to Scottsdale’s winter sunshine, each year finding Nellie in charge of the office staff. Nellie’s expert supervision assured that paperwork was in order, payments were timely, expectations were met and individuals were respected. Her efficiency and processes set high standards for Barrett-Jackson’s administration from the earliest days, standards still in place in 2010.
The measure of Nellie’s success can be gauged by the events her family produces, but her influence reaches beyond the car-collecting world. The charitable purpose of Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson’s first car show has continued under Nellie’s watchful, nurturing eye. Each of the Barrett-Jackson collector car events has made charitable sales and fund-raising a centerpiece of the auction, raising millions each year for charities large and small.
Nellie Jackson’s ever-present good humor never masked the fact that she had high expectations not only for the family and the auction but also for those who attend, report, sponsor, buy and sell at it. Nellie had the retailer’s astute regard for the customer, by her own high standards establishing the benchmarks for those with whom she – and Barrett-Jackson – does business. In 2004, Meguiars selected Nellie Jackson as a Treasure of the Collector Car Hobby, a richly deserved award that confirmed her impact on the hobby, her devotion to her family and her influence on the lives of others.
In lieu of flowers, the Jackson family requests that donations be made in Nellie’s honor to the Russ & Brian Jackson Cancer Research Fund by mail to 400 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix 85004 or online at www.russandbriancancerfund.org.