Dorothy Reed-Jackman, 78, works as a print and commercial model and actress, and is seen here on a Dunkin’ Donuts poster that can be found throughout Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Dorothy Reed-Jackman)
Dorothy Reed-Jackman (née Wiltshire) lives life to the fullest. While most people her age are spending their time carving out a space to relax and retire, this 78-year-old wife and mother of three is always looking for more to do.
After leaving her 9-5 job behind, Reed-Jackman started working as a print and commercial model and actress. She has successfully created a career that allows her to make money and still have time to spend with her husband Kent, attend her liturgical dance rehearsals and whatever else her heart desires.
Her face has peered at us through direct mail campaigns for Philips Lifeline, John Hancock’s brochures for long-term care insurance and a recent Dunkin’ Donuts campaign, complete with billboards scattered throughout Massachusetts.
Even though that campaign was shot four years ago, the posters from the shoot could be seen in West Roxbury’s Dunkin’ Donuts on Spring Street and the Dunkin’ Donuts in Raynham on Route 138 as recently as a month ago.
In addition to her print work, Reed-Jackman has worked on a number of films, including “Osmosis Jones,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Mall Cop” and “Zookeeper.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 39.6 million people aged 65 and older in the United States on July 1, 2009 and that accounted for 13 percent of the population. By 2050 the Census bureau predicts that the population of Americans aged 65 and over will jump to 88.5 million.
If they’re correct, Reed-Jackman may have a long modeling career as the face of elder services. Though Reed-Jackman now resides in Stoughton, she grew up in the Sugar Hill section of Roxbury where modest houses were perched up on a hill and neighbors helped rear all the children in the community together.
“People used to think if you lived on Sugar Hill you must have money. But that’s not true, my family worked really hard for what we had,” Reed-Jackman said.
It was commonplace for neighbors to reprimand those who misbehaved and then tell their parents.
“We were blessed back then. It really was a village. If you did something wrong, the neighbor would spank your butt and send you home to get another spanking,” Reed-Jackman said.
She remembers a Roxbury that had neighborhood grocery stores and drugstores on every other corner and Dudley was the place to go for what she calls “big shopping.”
“There was a major grocery store there, you could go to Timothy’s for clothes, and you could get furniture from Ferdinand’s,” she said. “Everything you needed you could get it there.”
Growing up, Reed-Jackman was a self-proclaimed tomboy that gave her mother a run for her money. “I was the rough and tumble tomboy interested in kicking ass. Anything the boys were doing, I wanted to do,” Reed-Jackman shares.
She once walked off a large rock in Monroe Park and dislocated her knee, and was teased mercilessly about it.
Back in her day, “coming out parties” were all the rage for young ladies and Reed-Jackman wanted no part of it.
“There was this group called the TAG’s. My mom wanted me to be in it, so Ms. Washington who lived on Monroe Street interviewed us. My mother thought it went well and was sure I made it in. But that woman knew me! I beat up her son everyday and twice on Sunday! She was never going to let me in,” Reed-Jackman said.
The Roxbury Reed-Jackman lived in is worlds away from the Roxbury that younger generations now call home. She remembers spending time at the Rivoli and Humboldt Theatres where she would meet friends and flirt with boys.
“You used to be able to catch the Seaver-Humboldt streetcar from Walnut to where the police station is. One day, I decided I was going to jump out the streetcar and not pay. As soon as I jumped off, Officer Horton saw me and said: I think it’s time I arrest you!” Reed-Jackman chuckles.
Her modeling career started in 1980 when she met former Boston Police officer Willie Saunders. He was doing some modeling at the time and told her to get in touch with his agent.
“He told me they were always looking for black women. I saw his agent on Thursday and had jobs lined up on Monday” Reed-Jackman said.
While new doors were opening up for Reed-Jackman in the modeling world, her personal life was shifting in a tragic way.
“In 1980 my parents died within six weeks of each other. There was a year or two when just about every family member who came with my parents from the Barbados to America died,” she said.
The stress of it caused Reed-Jackman’s hair to go completely gray and she refuses to dye it. It’s a sign that she’s lived and endured some hard times.
Long before her modeling career, Reed-Jackman did a little bit of everything. She was part of the original staff that opened the Martha Eliot Health Center in 1966; she was the first black woman to get a managerial position at Amtrak where she learned the electric slide on the jazz train; and she worked on the Paula Young wig line for Specialty Catalog Corporation.
Whenever she got a gig on a movie set, she was sure to suggest that her company provide wigs for the cast. Bold moves like that makes Reed-Jackman a favorite on commercial, movie and photography sets. If she wants something she’ll ask for it and when she wants to shine, she flashes her mega-watt smile.
“In this business, if you’re not outgoing then forget it,” she says.
Reed-Jackman — who is related to famous arts educator Elma Lewis — is anything but shy. She joined Charles Street A.M.E. in the early 2000s and loves her home church.
She’s a liturgical dancer in the adult women’s group and proudly serves on the usher board.
Though her plate seems full, Reed-Jackman is still looking for more modeling jobs to keep her busy. But will she stop anytime soon?
“When they say they can’t use me anymore, that’s when I’ll stop.”
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