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From Vietnam to Orlando, Alan Jackson finds success in family business
By Michael Laderman
ORLANDO, Florida -- Alan Jackson was being serious when he was looking back on the successes of his life, but not so much that he couldn’t help but laugh at his own self when reflecting on the personal ups and downs that he has gone through.
“I’ve had my share of fights in my life, having fought illness to having fought with women,” Alan said with a chuckle and a smile. “That’s probably a reason I’ve been married three times. I loved them all, but it just didn’t work out with a couple of them.
“But you know what? Yes, my life could be called miserable in that aspect of things, but the rest of it was really kind of good!”
It is that “rest of it” that had Alan smiling as much as he was, while recalling how he went from an honorably-discharged member of the United States Air Force, to owning his own Central Florida-based plumbing company in just a matter of a decade, to, now, passing the so-called “work torch” on to one of his sons.
How Alan got to that point in life, though – in which he was one of Orlando’s most respected plumbers for almost 40 years – is a story unto itself. That is because his initial life path was, in many ways, taking a much different turn than that of a successful business owner.
“Life could have gone a whole different direction,” Alan stated. “When I graduated from high school [in 1968], I went into the Air Force, and stayed there for two years. Had I have been there for longer, things could have been much, much different.”
Alan’s story at that time of his life, and at that time in the world, was much like other young men just graduating high school. With the United States deep into the Vietnam conflict, Alan went straight from the preps to the Air Force Academy. It was there, in Colorado, that he learned to fly the F14 and F15 fighter jets.
Although it was the beginning of what would be the final few years of the war, the fighting was intense. And Alan’s unit, along with others, helped make up a contingent of almost 500 aircraft and pilots that attacked the Vietcong, and also defended the Southern Vietnamese.
Of those, more than 300 pilots were killed.
Alan was one of the lucky ones who continued to live another day, to fight another day.
But Alan’s days with the Air Force were limited.
“I had developed this problem of walking, and nobody knew what it was,” he recalled. “They put me in the hospital, and did all kinds of tests. At that time, they didn’t know what MS was, they had no idea. Doctors, I remember, knew how MS would affect you, but they didn’t know where it came from, or if it was a cellular disorder in your brain, or what. So they told me I had to get out of the Service, with an honorable discharge.”
There he was, helping the United States defend an ally, in the prime of his life, and it hit him: Alan was found to have Multiple Sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system eats away at the body’s myelin, the protective covering of nerves.
When he returned to the States, he knew immediately what to do: Contact Joseph Schrimsher, the owner of Orlando-based Schrimsher’s Plumbing. Before Vietnam, Joseph had begun taking Alan under his wing when he was in his late teens and early 20s. Now that Alan was back, he reached out to Joseph, who put Alan to work – first in the office, and then, finally, out in the field, getting hands-on experience that would prove invaluable to him.
Unfortunately, Schrimsher’s Plumbing was a casualty of the horrific economy of the mid-to-late 70s. But from his experience with them, Alan took control of the opportunity given to him as an independent plumbing contractor. He registered for his permits, took the test [“I’ll never forget, I got an 87 on it,” he said], received his license, and began working all throughout the State, taking jobs in Tampa, Jacksonville, and in Lake Buena Vista, at the area’s newest attraction, Disney World.
He began building a team of other plumbers, many of whom he worked with while at Schrimsher’s Plumbing. And in 1983, with a team of 13 men and six trucks to his name, Jackson Plumbing was born.
“I put all my money into growing the company,” Alan said. “I took very little home at first, just enough to pay the bills and groceries. But I got my company built up, had a very good team, and had some very good jobs.”
So much so, that Alan was able to build his own 4,300 square foot house, with a screened-in pool and three-car garage. As a hobby, he repaired and fixed up old cars that he’d drive and keep for himself, including a ’57 Chevy that his great aunt had gotten too old to drive.
As time has passed, Alan’s personal focus has turned to his health needs, specifically in trying to live with – and beat – Multiple Sclerosis. As for his plumbing company, that now resides in the hands of his son, Clint – someone who reminds Alan of a younger version of himself.
“I definitely see a little bit of me in him,” said Alan, who also has three other sons – Chris, Brian, and Tom. “Like me, he’s very particular, he thinks things through, he’s neat, and he’s organized. If you have a company, and you’re not organized, forget it, it’s down the tubes – Know what I mean? Plus, you need to have personality. You have to be able to talk to clients. Clint has those things.
“It makes me feel real good, seeing him do what he’s doing. And the best thing is that he wants to do it. He’s got the drive and the ambition. And that’s something you have to – and need to – have.”