Remembering Jimmy Hackett: "And you're next!"

Standing in line at Leo & Jimmy’s Deli, those were my three favorite words. I was always partial to the “JCB Special,” which was piled high with delectable Jewish corned beef. I also liked to go there on Fridays, when the Deli offered crab cake sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and stewed tomatoes. Sometimes – particularly when I was a young lawyer – the line snaked out the door into Market Street. But the time always passed quickly, and when it was your turn, Jimmy made sure you knew it. If you bought a soda, he’d always remind you to wipe off the top of the can before drinking it.


Jimmy Hackett ~ The “mayor” of Wilmington

At the end of 2015, Wilmington lost its “Mayor of Market Street,” Jimmy Hackett, to cancer. He probably could have been mayor of the whole city, if he’d wanted the job. But Jimmy turned his can-do spirit, his infectious optimism, and his big heart into a lifetime of community service, outside the limelight.

Jimmy died on Christmas Day, and his funeral at the Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew was on New Year’s Eve. The symbolism of both dates is rich: physical death on the day of Christ’s birth, with the farewell service on a day of reflection and renewal. There’s a fitting symmetry in that confluence of dates: two births, actually. It was an open-casket visitation, and everyone had a chance to pay his or her respects to Jimmy and take a last, lingering look at a man that almost everyone who worked downtown knew by sight.

Although the funeral was in the middle of the holiday season, the congregation was large. It included many people who just felt that it was the right thing to do, given the outsized role that Jimmy played in our city. I saw several people there that I used to see standing in line for a sandwich. The music and the readings were inspirational and appropriate. And the common theme of the homily and the heartfelt remembrances was Jimmy’s catchphrase when anyone asked how he was doing: “Super good!” That phrase captures both his attitude and his life.

Wilmington is going through a rough patch right now, and it needs more people like Jimmy Hackett to roll up their sleeves and cheerfully pitch in. I’m sure he would regard that effort as the most fitting, and lasting, tribute.

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