CARY — Gene Jackson entered the flower business almost by accident.
When he was 16, Jackson got a job delivering flowers in eastern North Carolina.
“It was the only job I could find,” he recalled.
And he enjoyed it. “Everybody likes riding around listening to the radio all the time, getting paid for it.”
Soon, Jackson learned to do more than deliver flowers – he got into the art of floral design.
At N.C. State University in the 1980s, Jackson studied political science and education. But he helped pay his way through school by working at a flower shop in Raleigh.
And after a one-year stint of teaching U.S. history and civics at East Wake High School, Jackson, now 52, figured he could earn more money in the flower business.
Twenty years ago, Jackson and his wife, Nancy, opened Floral Accents and Interiors in downtown Cary. The store has become a local go-to destination for high-end silk flower arrangements, home accessories and Christmas decorations.
But at the end of the month, Jackson is closing the store to embark on a new adventure – seminary school. He plans to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.
For years, Jackson has been an active member of Apex Baptist Church, where he has taught Sunday school and Bible classes.
Through the recession, Jackson said, business at Floral Accents dropped by about 60 percent. In an uncertain economy, customers were less willing to spend money to decorate their homes.
“This is not something they have to have,” Jackson said.
The business expanded to North Hills in Raleigh five years ago, but Jackson closed it after only 18 months. He had a feeling things were getting worse financially.
To help make ends meet for his wife and their 16-year-old twins, Jackson took on a second job as a consultant to local florists who provide flowers for weddings and parties.
The extra work meant less time for church activities.
And along with trying to keep a struggling business afloat, Jackson had a family crisis. Four years ago, Nancy Jackson was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When she got sick, the world changed,” Jackson said. “You began to see what was important and what wasn’t. People are important; things are not.”
Jackson asked his pastor if he was crazy to attend seminary school at his age. He was met with encouragement.
Jackson grew up going to church, but he dedicated himself to his faith in college, where he heard an evangelist speak on campus.
He was on a “path of personal destruction,” Jackson said, and he turned to God.
Jackson’s loyal customers will likely miss his silk flower arrangements and extravagant Christmas displays. But he’s not completely leaving the flower business just yet.
He plans to continue working as a freelance consultant through seminary school.