Robert Jefferson “Jeff” Jakeman went to be with his Lord on Jan. 24, 2023, at age 74. He was surrounded by his beloved wife and family as he departed this world, succumbing to his brief, yet hard-fought, battle with cancer. He is remembered by his family as a hard-working, kind, loving and loyal man who deeply loved his Lord, family and friends.
Jeff was born on Oct. 22, 1948, to Flora Agnes Bandy and Robert Malcolm Jakeman, in Madison, Tennessee, but spent his childhood and young adulthood in Tampa, Florida. He graduated from Chamberlain High School in 1966, which is where he met his high school sweetheart and the love of his life, Carol Dressler. After dating for five years, he and Carol married on June 12, 1970.
He was the proud father of his daughters, Katie and Melissa, serving them and their families in countless ways up until his last days. The greatest joys of his life were his five granddaughters and one grandson. He loved them beyond measure — evidenced by his willingness to dress up in princess crowns, accompany their singing and dancing routines, serve them at tea parties, play “alligator” on the playground, learn Tik-Tok dances and build countless craft projects. His youngest two grandchildren remember their “Ga” taking them to the local airport, getting cake pops at Starbucks and going on walks in search of “treasures.” As his oldest four granddaughters got older, he delighted in talking with them about their lives and studies, taking turns listening to each other’s favorite songs and discussing articles, books and movies together.
With a seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge, Jeff always sought to engage and expand his mind. He earned his BA with a double major in sociology and social science from the University of South Florida in 1972, his master’s degree in history from Valdosta State College in 1980 and his PhD from Auburn University in 1988. His dissertation about the Tuskegee Airmen was later published in 1992 and titled, “The Divided Skies.”
Jeff served 26 years in the Air Force, starting out as an F-4 “Phantom” navigator (with more than 1,500 navigator hours) and ultimately retiring from service as full colonel in 1997. He was always proud that his tactical fighter squadron provided dusk patrol over communist China at the end of the Vietnam War. Throughout his military career, he and Carol were stationed in Texas, California, Florida, the Philippines, Georgia, Korea and Alabama. Perhaps their Air Force travels are what fostered their love of travel, which they were finally able to pursue in their retirement years. Among their many trips, their favorites were cruising the Danube River and visiting Italy and Greece.
In addition to his military career, Jeff also had an accomplished career in academe. While pursuing his PhD, he served as the assistant director of administration at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. After receiving his PhD, he was an assistant professor of history and archival studies at Auburn University and then editor of The Alabama Review. Perhaps his proudest accomplishment was serving as managing editor of the Encyclopedia of Alabama. Jeff was active in several historical organizations before retiring from Auburn University in 2012.
When it came to hobbies, Jeff certainly wasn’t lacking. From an early age, he loved music. He sang in the church choir, played many instruments (piano, French horn, guitar and mandolin) and had fond memories of his folk group, “The Strung Quartet.” He rode dirt bikes in Korea in his 20s. He ran the Huntsville marathon in his 30s. In his 60s, he learned Italian and became an avid cyclist — and was quite focused on meeting his goal of cycling 1,000 miles each year. His retirement years also afforded him the time to finally pursue his love of vintage cars, spending countless hours working with friends to restore his 1965 MGB. He also enjoyed reading, traveling, photography, astronomy, learning new words, hiking and so much more.
Jeff was preceded in death by his parents, Flora Agnes Bandy Jakeman and Robert Malcolm Jakeman. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Carol Dressler Jakeman; his daughters, Kathryn “Katie” Jakeman McMullen (Mike) and Melissa Jakeman Mitchell (Ted); his brother, Rex Jakeman (Leslie); his sister, Cynthia (Graham) Nicol; six grandchildren, Emma Kathryn McMullen, Anna Claire McMullen, Megan “Meg” Mitchell, Audrey Grace Mitchell, Polly Parker Mitchell and Theodore Jakeman “Jake” Mitchell; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
A memorial service was held at Trinity Lutheran Church in Auburn Jan. 28. He will be laid to rest at Ft. Mitchell National Cemetery with military honors. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions be made to Trinity Lutheran Church in Auburn, where he was a member for 42 years.