Nearly 1,000 people gathered Thursday to toast the life and legacy of Jess Jackson, a self-made billionaire who built Jackson Family Wines into Sonoma County's largest wine empire with a worldwide reputation.
His memorial service at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts attracted a diverse crowd, from Kentucky horse trainers to a Hollywood director, from friends of his five children to pals from his college days at UC Berkeley.
Their memories of Jackson, who died April 21 of cancer at the age of 81, drew tears, laughter and unfettered admiration for a man absorbed by hard work, strong opinions and a spirited sense of competition.
"He was an extraordinary man, and an ordinary guy," said Steve Miller, chairman of insurance giant AIG and a friend of Jackson. "He would arrive in his extravagant jet, and drive away in a beat-up old pickup."
The grandeur of the service nearly matched Jackson's big personality, including the reading of a eulogy written for the occasion by baseball legend Willie Mays and a tribute sung by Franc D'Ambrosio, famed for his performances in "The Phantom of the Opera." The U.S. Congress sent the flag that flew above the Capitol the day Jackson died, and Gov. Jerry Brown declared Thursday "Jess Stonestreet Jackson Day."
The public memorial service also illuminated personal moments of the industry giant, a private man who built a business not only to raise grapes, but also a family.
His wife, Barbara Banke, and five grown children sat in the front row, taking turns speaking about a man with a reputation as a fierce businessman, but who they knew as a loving father and husband. Around his Geyserville home, he was a kind, funny, sweet presence, even as he taught them to work hard.
"That's how I saw him," Banke said. "He was my husband, my partner and my best friend for many years."
Jackson's youngest daughter, Julia, delivered a heart-warming ode to her father, crediting him with fostering her love of classical music.
"When I was a little girl, my dad would put me on his lap," Julia said, tears welling in her eyes. "He would put my small hands on his hands, and we would play piano together."
As she spoke, her soft, trembling voice caught in her throat and tears streamed down her face. She stood silent in the bright spotlight for a few moments, alone on stage, as the grief overwhelmed her. In the low light of the auditorium, scores of people could be seen dabbing tissues under their eyes as Julia's sorrow washed over them.
Then she collected herself and walked to the piano, where she played Claude Debussy's "Clair de lune," a favorite composition of her and her father's.
The audience, which packed the auditorium and spilled into the balcony above, erupted into applause when she finished.
Jackson's only son, Christopher, also spoke, his deep baritone voice and hulking frame towering behind the podium like a living memory of his robust father.
"He was a rare man who could set his mind to something and could achieve it," said Christopher Jackson, a recent college graduate. "I stand before you a better man because Jess Stonestreet Jackson was my father."
John Lasseter, director of "Toy Story" and other animated Hollywood hits, elicited peals of laughter with his humorous tale of drinking a bit too much wine with dinner at Jackson's house, where he awoke the next morning running late to the production of his own movie. As Lasseter and his wife were about to drive away, Jackson came barreling out of the house, stumbling as he tried to pull on his boots, and urged the couple to climb into his helicopter.