GLEN RIDGE, NJ — For someone whose job was to shepherd countless children and adults across the busy intersection of Bloomfield and Ridgewood avenues, it makes sense that Glen Ridge school crossing guard Valentine Jackson — who retired Friday, Oct. 9, after 20 years at her post — led a peripatetic life.
In a recent telephone interview, Jackson, 79, said she was born in Nash County, N.C., and graduated from Edward Wyatt High School in Empora, Va.
“That’s where we moved to after I was born,” she said. “We moved to Emporia when I was 5. I was raised on a farm. My grandparents brought me up.”
A cousin, who knew of a job up north for Jackson gave her a call and she moved to Hewlett, on Long Island, right after graduating high school.
“I worked as a nanny for about a year,” she said, “and then left for Manhattan for a year. I worked in a factory and then moved to Camden Street in Newark. I was a mover.”
From Newark, Jackson commuted to Mountainside Hospital where she worked as a nurse’s aid.
“I got married in July 1963,” she continued. “I was living on Camden Street and my husband, Alvin Jackson, was from Nutley. I met him through an aunt and cousin, and his father, who lived on Camden Street.”
She left her job at the hospital after two years and took a position at the Essex County Geriatric Center in Belleville, where she was to remain employed for many years.
“After I got married, I moved to Nutley for eight years,” she said. “And then we moved to Girard Avenue in East Orange for eight more years. Then I moved around the corner to Brighton Avenue for 40 years. I’m still here.”
After retiring from county employment, Jackson found other work waiting for her.
“My next job was in the same building and the next day as kitchen help,” she said. “I was working for the food service company.”
In 1998, Jackson left that job and began working in the borough.
“I wanted to go back to work and saw in the paper a job for Glen Ridge school crossing guard,” she said, adding, “I worked every crossing in Glen Ridge.”
Busy as the intersection at Bloomfield and Ridgewood avenues is, with high pedestrian traffic for the elementary and high schools, train station, post office, municipal building and library, Jackson said the work was easy.
“It’s how you systematize yourself,” she said. “You have to form your own system at your job, whatever you do. It didn’t bother me at all. I loved it. But I can’t tell you my system. It’s different every day.”
Jackson said she felt that the children she crossed were her own and she was keeping them safe. She remembered giving them gifts.
“I’ve given out everything that a store sells to those kids as a memento,” she said. “I hope they keep them. I gave out so many dolls, but beautiful dolls. I wish I was back there now.”
But Jackson had promised her son that if she did not feel well, she would quit. And for a short time she did not feel well, so her son made her keep her word.
“I promised him, but I didn’t mean it,” she said, adding that her husband needs a little more help these days.
Glen Ridge Police Department Capt. Sean Quinn, who supervises the school crossing guards, said Jackson has been a staple of the Glen Ridge community since she arrived, adding that “She perfected working this busy intersection and is credited with teaching many police officers how to work it, including myself.”
Quinn, a Glen Ridge High School graduate, Class of 2000, said Jackson crossed him when he was going to school.
“We’re going to have to make some shifts,” Quinn said about finding a replacement. “Working this corner takes skill sets and personality.”
Jackson will be moving to south Jersey, near exit No. 5 off the Turnpike, to be closer to her son. But before heading off for her next destination, she had a last farewell.
“I want to thank the motorists for being patient with me and the kids,” she said. “It’s their road.”