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Boston Businessman Was a Quiet But Powerful Force in Inner City

September 18, 1991

BOSTON (AP) _ Eddie Jeter Jr. didn’t attract much notice during his life. Unless you were one of the people who worked for the $10 million hauling business he built out of a $200 loan he put down on a truck 25 years ago.

Or unless you were one of the 650 kids from a housing project that he sent to summer camp over the years. Or unless you were one of his five sons, or one of scores of kids from the inner city who sought his advice on how to get on in life.

″He was always willing to give somebody a shot,″ said Walter Williams, a friend of Jeter’s for 14 years. ″This was something he did with no fanfare or anything. He never made a big deal about it.″

Jeter finally got some notice this week. Local papers ran obituaries that spelled out the achievements of the quiet man who died of cancer Monday at age 56.

Jeter is remembered as much for his generosity as for his business acumen. Talk to anyone who knew him and they have a story about one charitable act or another.

Jeter hired family members and dozens of Roxbury residents into his firm. He paid for children from the nearby Orchard Park housing complex to escape the inner city at summer camp, backed college scholarships for needy youths and hauled trash free for the housing project and for social service agencies.

He also supported local black political candidates, but children and education were his first concern.

″A politician couldn’t get anything from Eddie quicker than a kid could,″ said Joyce Ferriabough, president of the Black Political Task Force in Boston. ″You’d say, ‘Eddie, there’s these five kids who are going hungry,’ and he’d say, ’let’s write a check.‴

In an age with so much talk about role models, young people in Roxbury often sought Jeter’s advice.

″Often times young men planning on going to college would come and talk to him,″ said his sister, Margo Jeter. ″Or he’d get letters in the mail, asking for insights on how to go into business.″

Born in South Carolina, Jeter dropped out of high school when his father died to help his mother support his five younger brothers and sisters.

When he was 19, Jeter headed north to work in the steel mills of Ohio, all the while sending money back home. While there he met and married his wife, Darlene. They moved to Boston when he was laid off.

″My mother instilled in us that being poor should never stop you, to work hard, and dream and dare,″ said Margo Jeter. ″Eddie thought he could do better by moving north.″

He did, though the going was never easy. Jeter worked for his brother, cleaning used bricks at a penny a brick. He borrowed his brother’s dump truck to clean out backyards and basements when the brick-cleaning business was slow.

In 1967 Jeter and his wife bought their first dump truck. Two years later he founded Jet-A-Way, a waste disposal company. By last year, the company in Boston’s mostly poor Roxbury section had grown to a $10 million business.

″His was a real Horatio Alger story,″ said John Kelso, Jet-A-Way’s executive vice president. ″Eddie started from absolute zero, and by his own hard work created this company.″

Williams, executive director of the Contractors Association of Boston, a minority trade group, said Jeter overcame the usual obstacles to making a business work, and the additional hurdle of being black.

″Eddie broke into a tough area for minorities to get into,″ Williams said. ″He had the difficulties of working with banks, and having limited resources. But he was the kind of a guy who could work with anybody and everybody.″

A year ago, Jeter was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Typically for him, he kept his illness quiet, and worked until a month ago.

″You get a lot of heroes who talk a lot, but sometimes they can’t back up what they say,″ said Jeter’s son, Jesse. ″But my father stood strong. He was the real McCoy.″

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