A crowd poured into the Pasco-Hernando State College’s Performing Arts Center in New Port Richey to honor Dr. Robert Judson Jr.
Judson, the college’s former president, passed away on Sept. 17 at the age of 77.
He made history in 1994 when he became the first black president of a college within the Florida Community College system. At the time, PHSC was still known as a community college.
The memorial, held on the college’s New Port Richey campus, came several weeks after Judson’s funeral service on Sept. 29, at the Hopewell Baptist Church in Pompano Beach.
The tone of the memorial was reverent, as Pastor Mitchell Davis Jr., from the Church of God in Christ, offered an opening prayer.
But, the arts center came alive with singing and clapping when the crowd joined in with the John Missionary Baptist Church male choir, in a series of spiritual songs.
Between scripture readings, Imani Asukile, Judson’s PHSC colleague, performed an African libation ceremony — watering a flower bush in remembrance of his friend.
As the service progressed, the audience, of approximately 200, came to know more about Judson’s life story.
The memorial was marked by tears and laughter, as former colleagues, fellow church-goers, friends and family shared stories of the man — with a deep, commanding voice — that they respected and loved.
Judson’s academic life began at Southern University in Louisiana.
In 1962, he married his high school sweetheart, Ellen Atkins, and served in the Army.
He graduated from Florida A & M University in 1969 with a degree in European history, and then earned a master’s degree in counseling from the same university in 1972.
Later that year, he joined what was then known as Pasco-Hernando Community College, as one of the college’s first instructors. He was hired by Milton Jones, the school’s founding president.
Judson served as a recruiter and a counselor while pursuing a doctorate degree in education.
During his tenure at the college, he was instrumental in buying the land for the Spring Hill campus, as well as erecting buildings for health programs, childcare and technology at several PHSC branches.
Judson’s graduation regalia – cap, gown, shawls and medallions – were neatly displayed on the stage next to the podium where speakers offered words of reflection.
Katherine Johnson, a former president at PHSC, said, “Bob approached me with a statement that proved both flattering and eventually career-altering for me.”
She succeeded Judson in 2005, after he encouraged her to apply for his job.
Timothy Beard, the college’s current president, told the audience: “He was a man with a great soul. He has certainly made a difference at PHSC.”
Beyond his contributions to academia, Judson took an active role in community outreach, helping to rebuild the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Pasco County.
He was an active member of several Baptist churches, received recognition from the African-American Heritage Society and won the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Award.
Before his passing, Judson and his wife, Ellen, had the opportunity to start a scholarship program for PHSC students.
Sarah Majka, a recipient of the Dr. Robert and Ellen Judson Scholarship, shared her gratitude for the financial support.
“I’ll forever be thankful for being one of the many students who have benefited from Dr. and Mrs. Judson’s generosity,” Majka said.
While the president was known for his various academic accomplishments and community outreach, there were those who saw him in a more personal light.
There was no doubt about Judson’s top priority, said Maurice Jones, a longtime friend, who spoke at the service. “Bob was truly a family-first man.”
His wife of 56 years, their three daughters and grandchildren shared final thoughts with the audience before the reception.
“His best achievement was loving his family,” said granddaughter, Chanelle Thomas. “Thoughts of my granddad inspire me every day.”
Published October 17, 2018