Judy Merritt served as president of Jefferson State Community College for nearly 35 years, and her legacy as a community leader continues to be praised eight years after her death in 2014.
Merritt, who was living in Chelsea at the time of his death and whose vision led to the opening of Jeff State’s Shelby-Hoover Campus in 1993, was one of six people inducted into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame at a event at the Fennec in Birmingham. on August 25, three of whom are now deceased.
The other Hall of Fame inductees were:
► Kirkwood Balton, Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. (deceased)
► Thomas Jernigan, Marathon Corp. (deceased)
► Claude Nielsen, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United
► David Wood II, Wood Fruitticher Grocery Co.
► John Wood, Wood Fruitticher Grocery Co.
Guin Robinson, Jeff State’s Dean of Economic Development, named Merritt to the Hall of Fame, which was established by the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham to honor individuals who have shown strong leadership and made extraordinary contributions to the greater Birmingham area.
Robinson said he was very excited that the Hall of Fame committee chose Merritt for the induction, but not surprised.
Merritt was a woman with many firsts in her life, he said.
She was the first woman named president of a two-year college in Alabama (by former Governor Fob James in 1979), and in 1993 she became the first woman to serve as president of the Chamber of Commerce from Birmingham.
In the early 1980s, she became the first woman on the board of the Bruno’s grocery chain, and she followed that in 1993 by becoming the first female board member of Energen Corp. She was also the only female member of SouthTrust’s board of directors. banking company.
“He was a remarkable person,” Robinson said. “What a legacy, what a mark Judy left.”
He was a remarkable person. What a legacy, what a mark Judy left.
It wasn’t just that she held these positions that made her remarkable; that’s what she did with them, says Robinson.
For starters, the world of post-secondary education is big business, he said.
Merritt had a vision to expand Jeff State beyond Jefferson County’s borders. When she became president of Jeff State, there was only one campus in the northeast part of Birmingham. Under Merritt’s leadership, the college expanded to Shelby, St. Clair, and Chilton counties. Over 5,000 students attend the Shelby-Hoover campus near Valleydale Road.
Second, Merritt was very smart, Robinson said. “She had one of the most strategic minds I have ever known.”
She had the ability to identify opportunities in problems and develop a plan to deal with them, which are the same skills used in business, Robinson said. She also had an incredible ability to understand people’s talents and place them in positions where those talents could be put to better use, he said.
It was Merritt who brought Robinson, a former mayor of Pell City, to work at Jeff State in 2006, handling community and government relations.
Merritt also had a passion for serving others, Robinson said. “Judy Merritt was leadership in the service of action every day,” he said.
Even though she had a Ph.D., she didn’t like being called Dr. and insisted people just call her “Judy.” And while she liked the idea behind the awards she received because they helped advance the college, she didn’t like focusing on the awards and sent most of the plaques down a hallway. in a storage area, Robinson said.
Merritt had no children and viewed Jeff State students as his children and focused his energy on improving the lives of others, he said.
Merritt was born in Jacksonville, Alabama, and was the only child of two longtime educators. Her father, Lawrence Miles, was dean of admissions at Jacksonville State University. His mother, Beatrice Davis Miles, was a teacher.
Merritt entered the University of Alabama when she was 16. She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority and an active leader of campus activities, but it was while in college that she met Thomas Merritt Jr., who would become her husband. She would later earn her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Alabama.
Merritt began her career as an admissions counselor at Jefferson State Junior College in 1965, the year the college opened. She often commented that it was her favorite job because it allowed her to interact directly with students. She and her husband later moved to Miami, Florida, where she served as Vice President of Student Affairs at Florida International University.
After being named president of Jeff State in 1979, she was very active in various regional and national organizations. She served on the board of trustees of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges and the executive council of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. She has also served on the board of the Business Council of Alabama and has been associated with numerous community and civic organizations.
Since her death, the annual Judy M. Merritt 5K Memorial 5K has helped honor her legacy by providing scholarships to students in need.
Merritt is now one of 131 members of the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame.
Birmingham is arguably the economic engine of the state of Alabama, said Honora Gathings, executive director of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham.
“So much amazing work has been done here,” Gathings said. “It’s a community that’s steeped in so much history. We really wanted to make sure that those we rely on now were honored for their contributions. We hear these stories, and it really shows us what a tight-knit community we are and how all of our actions have this ripple effect. We don’t realize how much our actions go towards benefiting and improving the lives of others.
Here’s a bit more about the other new inductees this year:
Balton, born in 1935 in Birmingham, was a former chairman and CEO of Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. and the founder of J&B Medical Supply and J&B Management and Electric Supply, both named after his wife, Juanita Balton. Balton received his bachelor’s degree from Miles College in 1957 and began working for AG Gaston two years later. He went on to earn an MBA from Samford University in 1970 and progressed through Gaston’s business to manage WENN-FM and become president and CEO of Gaston’s insurance company. before retiring in 2001.
Jernigan, born in 1928 in Atmore, was the founder and CEO of Marathon Corp. He grew up on a farm near Frisco City in Monroe County and served in the US Air Force for two years during World War II before moving to Birmingham and beginning his career developing field equipment. games. Jernigan founded several businesses during his career, including Plantation Patterns, United Chair Co., Quick Marts, and Winston Furniture. Jernigan was a founding director of Central Bank and Trust Co. (formerly Compass Bank and now PNC) and a director of Superior Bank.
Nielsen, a native of Evergreen, received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Sewanee: Southern University in 1973 and his master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1975. Nielsen joined Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United in 1979 and held a variety of operational and managerial roles until 1991 when he was named CEO. He assumed the additional role of Chairman in 2003. In 2016, he retired as CEO while continuing to serve as Chairman. Nielsen served as president of the American Beverage Association and the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. He also served on the board of the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association.
David Bois II
David Wood II assumed management of Wood Fruitticher, along with his brother John, at a young age after the death of their father. At the time, the company was making about $10 million in annual sales. They grew the company over the next 38 years to $400 million in annual sales. Wood II is a graduate of Lead Birmingham and in the current class of Leadership Alabama. He served the Birmingham Airport Authority, the Boy Scouts of America and the Food Bank of Central Alabama. Since retiring, he has flown more than 60 flights for Veterans Airlift Command, which transports injured veterans to and from hospitals nationwide for the treatment they need.
John Wood, David’s brother, retired from Wood Fruitticher in 2017. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham and has held leadership positions with the Presbyterian Church in America. When he’s not advising the fourth generation of Wood Fruitticher owners, he can be found spending time with the fifth generation, which consists of 19 grandchildren.