Judy Merritt was born in Jacksonville, Alabama, and was the only daughter of two longtime educators. Her father, Dr. Lawrence Miles, was Dean of Admissions at Jacksonville State University. Her mother, Beatrice Davis Miles, was a teacher.
Judy entered the University of Alabama at age sixteen beginning her lifelong love of the opportunities afforded by advanced education. She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority and an active leader in campus activities, but most importantly she would meet Thomas E. Merritt, Jr. who would become her best friend, the love of her life, and husband. She would later earn both her M.A. and PhD. at the University of Alabama.
She began her career as a counselor of admissions at then Jefferson State Junior College in 1965, the opening year of the College. Judy often remarked this was her favorite job because it allowed her direct interaction with the students. She and her husband then moved to Miami, Florida where she served as the Vice-President of Student Affairs at Florida International University.
On December 1, 1979, Judy was appointed President of Jefferson State Community College. Her appointment by Governor Fob James marked the first time a woman had been named president of a two-year college in Alabama. That was one of several firsts for her. She was later the first female corporate board member for Energen Corporation and the only female board member on the South Trust Board of Directors. She was also the first woman to chair the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 1993.
She blazed a trail and opened doors for all with her appointment to the Bruno’s, Inc. Board of Directors and followed in 1993 with her appointment as the first female corporate board member for Energen Corporation serving until the time of her death. She capped off these impressive leadership positions when she became the only female on the SouthTrust Bank Board of Directors. In 1993, she again paved the way for women by becoming the first to chair the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. While her leadership positions have been extraordinary, it is how she used them that inspired others to follow. Judy personified the servant leader. She made it her life’s mission to ensure that a pathway to success was open for all.
During her tenure at Jefferson State, Judy was active with a variety of regional and national organizations. She served on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges and on the Executive Council of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. She also served on the Board of the Business Council of Alabama and was associated with many community and civic organizations. During her career, Judy received many awards and recognitions; however she was most pleased when the recognition was afforded to her Jefferson State Community College family.
When Judy Merritt began her tenure at Jefferson State Community College, the College consisted of one campus located in the eastern area of Jefferson County. Through her vision and amazing ability to form partnerships, today Jefferson State has campuses in four counties furthering her dream of opening doors of higher education for all. In her 35 years as president, she presided over a period of an unprecedented growth. Upon her retirement in June 2014, she remarked that while the dream for many has been achieved the fight for pathways to education, equality and inclusion continues.
Since Judy’s death in 2014, the annual Judy M. Merritt 5K Memorial Race has helped to honor her legacy by providing scholarships for students in need. We appreciate your support in this special event.