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Jaki Jackson, 92, Was Pioneering Yoga Teacher

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 11:20

April 6, 1931 - October 22, 2023

Jacqueline Riddick Jackson, a fixture in East Hampton for more than 60 years, “built a recognized place in the community as a teacher, mentor, and friend to countless people,” her daughter, Danielle Parris Canfield, wrote. A yoga teacher here for many years, she was prompted to retire from teaching at the age of 92 by a surprise diagnosis of colon cancer last June. Her daughter said that she “died with dignity” on Oct. 22, with “her small family and friends” at her bedside. 

Among the first yoga gurus on the East End, she taught children and adults, privately and in group classes, from East Hampton to Sag Harbor and beyond — at the John M. Marshall Elementary School, Naturopathica, the Fitness Factory, Villa Maria, Boys Harbor, the East Hampton Town Senior Citizens Center, and the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter. “Her classes spanned the breadth of East Hampton’s social network, mirroring her relationships across the town’s wide spectrum,” her daughter wrote. 

Known as Jaki, she arrived in Springs in the summer of 1962 with her second husband, Harlan Jackson, and her daughter from a previous marriage to Cecil R. Parris Jr. A second child, a son, Reginald, soon followed. Her husband, an artist, had recently won a Guggenheim prize and his work had subsequently been acquired for the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection. 

The family first lived in a Springs studio next to Green River Cemetery on Accabonac Road and later bought a house on Neck Path, where Ms. Jackson established Sunny Time Workshop, a summer camp for young children, attended primarily by summer residents. This seasonal venture was a precursor to a nursery school that operated for more than a decade. Many of its students remained in touch with her throughout their lives and remember her with true affection, her daughter said. 

“She loved teaching children and delighted in inspiring them with discovery through games, books, and music,” Ms. Parris Canfield wrote. “She appreciated silliness and the ridiculous, as children so enjoy.” 

“In sometimes surprising ways, Jaki’s bohemian, new age spirit was doggedly old school,” her daughter said. “Until the end, she eschewed computers and cellphones as means of communication; instead, her beautiful penmanship graced many a handwritten letter and note.” 

She was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton, where “singing in its choir, acting in its theatrical productions . . . she finally unveiled her hidden thespian with enthusiasm and gusto,” her daughter said. She was a “ubiquitous presence” at community events including art shows at Ashawagh Hall and Guild Hall. 

A lifelong Scrabble champion, she played competitively in tournaments across the United States. “She once remarked that she ‘played assiduously,’ noting that her competitors often seemed to approach the game ‘casually.’ It was unusual, perhaps charitable, when she allowed her opponent to eke out the occasional win.” 

She swam and visited her favorite beaches, Louse Point in Springs and Albert’s Landing in Amagansett, almost daily through the end of her life, and in later years “she could often be seen sitting on a bench at the ocean at Atlantic Avenue and Indian Wells, enjoying the sky, the surf, the dance of the whales.” 

Ms. Jackson “relished every aspect of her life in this small town, where everyone, it seemed, knew her by name. In turn, she loved knowing everyone, her friends and her students, her neighbors, young, old, and in between, the mail woman, the shopkeepers, the restaurateurs, the fishermen, the farmers, and their farm stands — all her neighbors. East Hampton was her touchstone,” Ms. Parris Canfield wrote. 

Born in New York City on April 6, 1931, she was the only child of Reginald P. Riddick and the former Ethel Parker. She studied classical piano from the age of 6, and performed in piano recitals in the city throughout her youth. She graduated at 16 from the High School of Music and Art, and by the age of 20 had earned a bachelor’s degree in physical chemistry from Fisk University, a historically Black college in Nashville. In the late 1970s, when she was in her early 40s, she graduated with a master’s degree in physical therapy from Stony Brook University. 

Her early career as a physical chemist took her first to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the United States government in a research lab on issues related to national security. Seeking work consistent with her principles led her back to New York, where she was employed by the New York City Board of Health as a physical chemist. 

Both of her marriages ended in divorce. She was predeceased by her son, Reginald Jackson, who died in 2021 from injuries sustained in a mountainbiking accident. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son-in-law, Thomas Canfield of Washington, D.C., and Florida, and a granddaughter, Juliana Canfield of Brooklyn. 

A memorial is planned for April 6 at 10 a.m. at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church. 


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