First female community college president in Alabama has passed away

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

Former Jefferson State Community College President Dr. Judy Merritt has passed away at the age of 71 after recently retiring from the school in June of this year.

Merritt

Merritt

Merritt had served 35 years as president before her retirement on June 30, 2014.

Merritt was appointed president of Jefferson State Community College in 1979 by Governor 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, she has worked at Jefferson State since its beginning in 1965.

Keith Brown, Jefferson State dean of campus development and campus/legal services, commented on Merritt’s impact at the time of her retirement in June.

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

Jefferson State Community College released a statement on the passing of Merritt on Monday, Oct. 20.

“The entire Jefferson State Community College family is mourning the loss of our longtime leader and friend, Judy M. Merritt. 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 one who truly made a difference.”

Leadership Shelby County Coordinator Carol Bruser said she has known Merritt since 2001 and worked closely with Merritt when she went through Shelby County Leadership.

“She was just an awesome person and I don’t have enough nice things to say about her,” said Bruser. “Her favorite line was ‘I’m not Dr. Merritt, I’m Judy.’ That’s just the kind of person she was.”

Under her leadership, Jefferson State, which operates a campus on Valleydale Road in Hoover, has grown both geographically and in the number of students served. When Merritt became president at Jefferson State, the college consisted of one campus located in the eastern area of Jefferson County. Under Merritt’s leadership, Jefferson State has now expanded into four counties, serves approximately 15,000 students per year, and is a leader in education in Alabama and beyond.

Former Shelby County Schools Superintendant Evan Major said he also worked very closely with Merritt in the past and feels she will be missed by many.

“Nobody did more for the young adults and career training than Judy,” said Major. “She put Jeff State on the map and the Shelby Branch is just an outstanding facility. She was just a wonderful person and very fine lady who will be missed.”

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 October 24, 2014 at 2:00 PM in the Health Sciences Building at the Jefferson State Community College Shelby-Hoover Campus at 4600 Valleydale Road in Birmingham. In lieu of flowers, donations in Judy’s memory can be made to the Jefferson State Community College Foundation and sent to Carolyn Densmore, 6978Parc Brook Lane, Trussville, AL 35173.