The role that lured this Hollywood star back home to Richmond

Posted at 4:14 PM, Jul 17, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Jesse Vaughan immerses himself in flowers and fruits every chance he gets. The 61-year-old has a knack for nurturing.

“I see you melons. You finally came up," he said with a garden hose in hand. "This right here is my happiest place. It is very stress relieving. I love being out [in the garden].”

But Jesse's passions go beyond his backyard garden. The veteran filmmaker produces documentaries and commercials for Virginia State University.

His career behind the camera began directing newscasts for WTVR in Richmond when he was just 19 years old.

“The bug bit me immediately," Vaughan said. “I worked in TV news for 14 years."

His talents have earned him 30 Emmy Awards.

“When you put a lot of effort into your skillset, opportunities are going to come," he said.

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Jesse Vaughan with his Emmy awards. Vaughan recently came to Northern Arizona University's School of Communication and is now in the running for nine more Emmys this year. (James Bauerle/Arizona Daily Sun/Order this photo at

Jesse shares his knowledge freely. Aspiring film editor and VSU grad Travis Maxwell absorbs his mentor's advice.

“He’s the best. That is why I appreciate him taking me up under his wing," Maxwell said. “I talk to my parents and they say that I’m getting another type of baby class before film school I said ‘I know. I can’t believe it. I really can’t."

Jesse knows firsthand how guidance impacts a young person.

On August 3, 1973, near the intersection of N and 32nd Streets in Church Hill, 14-year-old Jesse's life would shatter.

“What happened here had a profound effect on my life," Vaughan said. "My father was my best friend. He spent practically every day with me.”

His father and namesake was murdered during a card game.

“My dad meant everything to me as a boy. He loved me immensely," Vaughan said.

His best friend's killer has never been caught.

“Losing him was very difficult. But the thing that saved me was my Mom," Vaughan said. “She would sit me down at the kitchen table and teach me about life. She would teach me about taking the high road in whatever I did.”

That high road led him west.

“I’ve pinched myself with every celebrity I worked with," Vaughan said.

During three decades in Tinseltown, Jesse worked with the heavyweights of Hollywood.

“Jim Carey. Jamie Foxx. Paula Abdul. Quincy Jones. I worked for Michael Jackson’s Company. Missy Elliot. Justin Timberlake. Those are a few," Vaughan said.

Jesse directed the show "In Loving Color" and the comedy film "Jawana Man," produced commercials for the Olympics and collaborated with Stevie Wonder.

“Stevie Wonder. He was my idol as a kid. To be able to work on a documentary with him was extraordinary," Vaughan said.

While riding a wave of success, Jesse's life script changed with a phone call from his mother, Rachel.

“She said, ‘Son you’ve done quite a bit in your career. You’ve met a lot of people. I haven’t seen you in 30 years. I’ve seen you. I haven’t spent quality time with you. I’m on my last leg. Would you come back to Virginia to be with me in my last aspects of life," Vaughan said. “I couldn’t turn her down.”

He returned to his native Richmond in 2011.

“My mom suffers from dementia. The last five years have been really challenging for her," Vaughan said.

Rotating shifts with sister Evelyn McGill, the siblings care for their 91-year-old mother.

“He gets her up. He bathes her. He puts her clothes on. He rolls her hair up," Evelyn said. “If you ask me which word she says the most it's 'Jesse!'"

“She’s given me so much care and so much love. She was my original teacher. She is like my guru," Vaughan said.

Jesse Vaughan directing his most important role to date. Because to nurture is in Jesse's nature.

“I couldn’t turn her down," he said. “She’s been there for me, so I’m there for her and I have no regrets whatsoever.”

The National Academy of Television Arts and Science is recognizing Jesse Vaughan's accomplishments and dedication to his craft. He will receive the prestigious Ted Yates Award at their ceremony next month.

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