After serving 35 years as president, Dr. Judy Merritt retired from Jefferson State Community College on June 30.

“Throughout her 50-year career, Merritt has been an incredible leader who has touched countless lives,” said Jefferson State Dean of Campus Development & Campus/Legal Services Keith Brown. “She has devoted her life to making a difference in our community and improving the lives of others.”

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, she has worked at Jefferson State since its beginning in 1965.

Through the years, Merritt has 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. She 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.

“Merritt has always believed education is an individual’s pathway to achieving one’s goals and dreams,” said Brown. “She has worked tirelessly to make education more accessible and ensure the pathway to education is clear for all.”

Under her leadership, Jefferson State has grown both geographically and in the number of students served. When Merritt became president at Jefferson State, the college consisted of one campus in the eastern area of Jefferson County. Jefferson State now has campuses in four counties, serves approximately 15,000 students per year and is a now considered a leader in education in Alabama and beyond.

St. Clair County Schools board member Marie Manning has worked at Jeff State the past six years. Manning said Merritt was very instrumental in Pell City having a community college campus.

“She does not like being called Dr. Merritt,” Manning said. “She wants all of her friends to call her Judy.

“Judy is one of the finest administrators I have ever known. And the reason is because she makes every employee feel as if they are the most important employee she has. Her encouraging type of leadership causes an employee to want to do more and do it better. She’s just good.”

St. Clair Times Associate Editor Gary Hanner contributed to this story.