On Thursday, October 21, I received a call from Jackson Armstrong-Ingram's sister who lives in Ireland, but who was visiting him in his home in Las Vegas, that he had passed away the night before, after a short illness. This came as quite a shock to me, since I had seen him in Los Angeles earlier that month. Of course, he had various health complaints, and he was never physically very strong, but he seemed fine to me then and we had an enjoyable visit.
I am afraid that his passing was also a great surprised to his family. Besides his sister, he leaves behind two sons: Conan and Tiernan, who live in Indiana. They are all scrambling around trying to take care of his personal affairs.
I had known Jackson for many years, since the early 1980s. I always found him to be a brilliant intellectual, a careful scholar, and a conscientious archivist. He was a very close friend, and he had an endless capacity to fascinate me with his passion for research into Bahá'í history. But, of course, his research interests did not stop there. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of vast areas of Middle Eastern history and anthropology, European culture, and American history, as well. He was also well known and well published in his own field of archival preservation and research.
I do not have much information on his life, and all I can offer here are the facts that I can remember from my many informal conversations with him. He was born in Northern Ireland to a Protestant family, I believe. He grew up in Ireland, where he became a Bahá'í. He was also married there at a young age. He attended the Queen's University in Belfast, and he pursued a Ph.D. there.
Actually, his doctoral work was one of the great disappointments of his life. He had completed his doctoral dissertation on the development of music and devotions in the early American Bahá'í community. The dissertation was eventually published as volume four in the STUDIES IN BABI AND BAHA'I RELIGIONS series under the title of Music, Devotions, and Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. (Jackson was a frequent contributor to the series. His most recent article was published in volume fourteen.) In any case, his advisor at Queen's University was happy with his work and wrote to him to say that he would accept the dissertation. Unfortunately, the advisor died suddenly before he could complete the paperwork, and the doctorate was thrown into limbo. Another committee was formed some time later to review the case, and on the advice of an outside reviewer the doctorate was denied. Jackson spent much time on appeals and international correspondence to resolve this matter in his favor, but he was not successful.
I don't know when he moved to the United States with his family. But he did work in the Bahá'í National Archives in Wilmette, Illinois, for a few years before moving on to other jobs. His career as an archivist was certainly distinguished. When he moved from the Midwest, separating from his wife (and eventually divorcing), he took a position with the Nevada State Library and Archives in Carson City. He then moved to the Henderson Municipal Archives, also in Nevada. He was briefly hired as the State Archivist of Alaska. Unfortunately, that position did not last very long. As the Alaska winter set in, Jackson found that he could not tolerate the weather there and he had to return to the Las Vegas area for health reasons. Most recently he had been a consultant to the Riverside, CA, city archives. He was deliberately trying to keep his formal work schedule to a minimum in order to devote himself to research and writing.
He certainly accomplished that. His most recent article, "The Shah, the Skirt, and the Ballet: A Menage à Trois, or Just Ill-Founded Gossip?" in Qajar Studies, Vol. IV (Rotterdam, 2004) was a brilliant and witty inquiry into the notion that Nasiru'd-Din Shah, after his first visit to Europe, ordered the women in his harem to wear short skirts in imitation of the ballet dancers he had seen. Jackson was able, within a few pages, to demonstrate that this is a silly and unsubstantiated myth that cannot possibly be true.
He had recently taken up working on a Ph.D. again and had enrolled in Leiden University as the first step toward writing a new dissertation.
He was also working on a book for Kalimat Press, a second volume of Written in Light, with photographs of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Holy Land. I hope that this book can eventually be published posthumously. He had spent a great deal of time conducting research for and writing on this book. I remember being startled by how emotionally invested he was in it. He once told his friends that he had been working with a photograph of the funeral of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Holy Land. In the picture, he noticed that there was a group of poor Palestinian women who had come into the street to observe the funeral procession. They were wearing only the ordinary Arab smocks that the masses could afford. However, he could clearly see in the photo that they were weeping hopelessly and beating their heads with their fists. And he himself fell into tears at the realization of what 'Abdu'l-Bahá must have meant to the poor people of 'Akka and Haifa.
He also had a number of other research projects in mind. We had, at one time, outlined ideas for eight or ten books that he would have liked to have completed.
In any case, Jackson's untimely passing is certainly a great loss to Bahá'í studies. I hope that his library and his papers can be preserved and deposited in an archive somewhere for the benefit of future scholars. They will certainly find there a treasure chest of materials gathered over a lifetime of diligent research.