First female community college president in Alabama dies at 71

Published 2:43 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Former Jefferson State Community College President Dr. Judy Merritt passed away Sunday at her home in Chelsea.

Merritt, 71, served 35 years as president before retiring on June 30.

10-22 Judy Merritt for WEB

Merritt was appointed president of Jefferson State Community College in 1979 by Gov. Fob James. This appointment marked the first time a woman had been named president of a community college in Alabama. With the exception of four years at Florida International University in Miami, Merritt worked at Jefferson State since its beginning in 1965.

Keith Brown, Jefferson State Interim President, spoke regarding Merritt’s passing on Monday.

“The entire Jefferson State Community College family is mourning the loss of our longtime leader and friend, Judy M. Merritt,” Brown said in a release. “As the former president of the college and community leader, she devoted her entire life to the service of others. Over a career spanning more than four decades, she was a constant force as the one who truly made a difference.”

Brown commented on Merritt’s impact at the time of her retirement.

“Throughout her 50-year career, Judy Merritt has been an incredible leader who has touched countless lives,” Brown said in a release in June. “She has devoted her life to making a difference in our community and improving the lives of others.”

Clanton Campus Division Chair and English instructor Ashley Kitchens described Merritt as an “inspiring woman in her humility and her dedication to the college.”

“I met Judy when I moved to the Clanton campus as a full-time instructor,” Kitchens said on Tuesday. “She was very personable and very low-key, not wanting to be called Dr. Merritt, but ‘just Judy.’ She modeled a strive for excellence and an utmost concern for students.”

Kitchens also said Merritt shared a “true passion” for creating a fair and challenging learning environment for all.

According to Merritt’s obituary, Merritt served on numerous boards and committees including the United Way of Central Alabama and the American Heart Association.

In the early 1980s, she was the first female appointed to the Bruno’s Inc. Board of Directors and, in 1993, the first female appointed as a corporate board member for Energen Corporation.

Merritt later became the only female on the SouthTrust Bank Board of Directors.

In 1993, she broke new ground again by becoming the first woman to chair the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

When Merritt began her tenure at Jefferson State Community College, the school consisted of one campus located in eastern Jefferson County.

Through her vision and ability to form partnerships, Jefferson State now has campuses in four counties, serves about 15,000 students per year and is a leader in education in Alabama and beyond.

Merritt’s leadership, care for others and service before self were noted as reasons why Jefferson State has helped many people throughout the years.

Merritt is preceded in death by her parents, Lawrence and Beatrice Miles, and her husband, Thomas E. Merritt, Jr.

A celebration of her life will be held Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. in the Health Sciences Building at the Jefferson State Community College Shelby-Hoover Campus, 4600 Valleydale Road, Birmingham.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Merritt’s memory can be made to the Jefferson State Community College’s Foundation and sent to Carolyn Densmore, 6978 Parc Brook Lane, Trussville, AL 35173.