Honoring a servant leader

Published 12:58 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2015

From Staff Reports

Dr. Judy Merritt dedicated her life to Jefferson State Community College and generations of students.

Merritt, who passed away after a quiet illness in October 2014, was a singular presence in Shelby County. She was an educator and businesswoman, visionary and advocate, wife and friend.

This week, we at honor her legacy in Profile, an annual special publication that celebrates the good in Shelby County. The magazine, which you can find inserted in today’s issue, features in-depth stories about the people who have changed our county for the better.

Merritt has impacted thousands of Shelby County residents, whether or not they are aware of it, but her impact reaches far beyond the county’s borders.

She served Jeff State humbly and passionately for more than three decades, first as an admissions counselor and later as president.

A firm believer in the power of education, she championed opportunity for everyone, including the underprivileged. Friends and colleagues say she recruited students everywhere, even at grocery stores.

Her prescience was remarkable. Under her leadership, Jeff State grew from a single campus to four, including the local campus, which opened before the county’s population boom.

A trailblazer for women, she was the first female to be named president of a two-year institution when Gov. Fob James appointed her to head Jeff State in 1979. She was also the first female corporate board member for Energen Corporation, the only female board member on the South Trust Board of Directors and the first woman to chair the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

Simply put, Dr. Merritt, who insisted on going by “Judy,” was inspiring. She changed the state’s education and business landscape for the better.

We at the Shelby County Reporter are proud to name her our “Person of the Year” in Profile.