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Judy Chambers, 1936-2023: The Gift of Friendship

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By Lori Gilbert

Judy Chambers wasn’t just a presence in Stockton. She was a present, a gift to be enjoyed over and over again, any time you saw her.

That we lost her at 87 after a short illness leaves a void in the city, where she was a glass-ceiling breaker professionally and civically, but her passing takes a greater toll on those who called her friend. And there were countless.

“She had multiple circles of friends, but she always made you feel special when you were with her,” said Gillian Murphy, a retired dean of applied science, business and technology at San Joaquin Delta College.

Sharon Tweedy met Judy through Stockton Rotary, the club that made Judy the first female Rotarian in Stockton. Judy, Sharon and Graham Tweedy and Kathy Hart had a standing dinner date at Octavio’s. “We would go by three or four tables where Judy would stop to talk to friends, so we’d wait to order,” Sharon said. “She didn’t know me from Adam, but she talked to me and was like my next best friend.”

That was Judy Chambers’ gift.
She made everyone feel like a special friend. It wasn’t artifice. It was art. Her gift. She genuinely enjoyed meeting other people and expanding her circle of friends.

Maybe it stemmed from her work as director of student life—she was the first woman to hold that position at University of the Pacific—and dealing with college students. She understood how important it was for students to make friends to fit into a new environment. In Judy, everyone had a friend, arms to embrace them as only a real friend can.

Many friends don’t remember how they became friends with Judy. They met and that was it. Marlene Hnath, a long-time neighbor, just remembers suddenly being close to her, being a part of a Monday morning coffee group and then a Thursday night wine group. “Judy would sit next to someone and talk and that would be her friend that day,” Marlene said, “You’d think, ‘I want to be Judy’s friend.’”

If Judy had to miss either gathering, Marlene had strict orders to email any gossip Judy had missed out on. The two eventually became neighbors, their backyards separated by Merrimac Park in Lincoln Village West, and whenever Judy went on a trip, Marlene would welcome her home with some silly surprise. Once it was yellow police tape around the front of her home. Another time, neighbors pitched in to help cover the back patio with empty wine bottles, balloons, UOP banners and a few beer cans. “We continued this decorating job quite a few times, always to the delight of Judy,” Marlene said.

Many of those trips Judy took were with Kathy Hart, the retired president of Delta College. “We wanted to travel, and it was fantastic,” Kathy said. “We never disagreed about anything. We had so much fun and ended up going on a couple trips a year.” They went on cruises to Alaska and one from London to Barcelona. They had a fall trip planned from Athens to Jerusalem with a stop in Istanbul.

Kathy was nervous about the earthquakes there, but Judy refused to worry about that. She had been to the places they visited together, but Judy wanted Kathy to see the beautiful sites she had enjoyed, and an earthquake wasn’t going to happen on her visit. “That was positive Judy,” Kathy said. “She was almost Pollyanna-ish, because she was always so positive.”

Judy loved being part of a group that called themselves Women Having an Interest in Money, and some years their return on investments totaled 87 cents or $1.12. Didn’t matter. Getting together with friends is what she loved to do.

Even before her surgery on July 6, from which she didn’t recover, Judy was upbeat. We exchanged emails of plans to see one another when she was home and up for a visit. Judy looked for the positive even if all her dreams didn’t come true.

Judy had graduated from Pacific and was working toward her master’s there in 1960 when Bing Crosby came to the campus to film the movie High Time. Judy arranged to be in the administration building when they were filming, certain he would spot her and make her a star. Alas, Bing missed out on the next big thing, as had the rest of Hollywood when she was growing up in their backyard in Glendale.

Judy had to be experienced.
Hollywood’s loss was Stockton’s gain. Who knows if her essence would have transferred to film. She had a natural sense of humor that punctuated her stories, that made you laugh out loud. If you ever saw her as the master of ceremonies at any event, you would roll in the aisle laughing with everyone else. “She was so good at that because she worked very hard on her speeches,” Gillian Murphy said. “That’s the key. People are good because they work to be good. She did not take speaking engagements lightly. She wanted to do a good job and she had respect for her audience.”
Her speeches sounded off the cuff, but Judy made everything seem effortless, whether she was dressing in a perfect ensemble with just the right jewelry for any event or delivering the perfect punchline. “Did you ever see her without her nails polished?” Gillian asked.

As a matter of fact, no. Judy wasn’t pretentious, though. She just liked to look a certain way. And those painted fingernails? She loved to have those fingers wrapped around a nice glass of
white wine.

It’s the little things you remember when you lose a friend, but Judy was such a large figure. Most of her life was devoted to Pacific. After earning her degrees there, she spent eight years at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. Judy returned to Pacific in 1968, and after the arrival of President Stan McCaffrey, she was named dean of students in 1973 and in 1975, Pacific’s inaugural vice president for student life, a position she held for the next 25 years, according to Pacific’s website. President Donald DeRosa convinced her to work in advancement, which she did until 2012.

At her retirement party—the second one, when she left advancement—stories about her notorious driving on campus and parking in illegal spaces because they were closest to her office, abounded. Gillian said when women were required to wear dresses or skirts to school, the exception was for tennis players, who were allowed to wear shorts. So, Judy put on shorts and carried around a tennis racquet, to, yes, skirt the rule.

Judy was truly a trendsetter.
It was Stan McCaffrey who nominated Judy as the first female member of Stockton Rotary, and the president at the time, and champion of her selection, was Judge James Darrah. Judy’s best friend was Joan Darrah, the former Stockton mayor. Judy and her husband, Dewey, would vacation with the Darrahs and their children. Judy lost Dewey in 1999 after 29 years, and Jim lost Joan in 2007 after 47 years. As Joan was nearing the end, she told Judy to look out for Jim. And she told Jim to look out for Judy. Thursday night dinners at the Darrahs continued for Judy, who did not like to cook.

Judy and Jim married in 2010, an event they called three parties and a wedding, with friends from near and far gathering. Their nuptials, Judy said, came after she fought off women who thought Jim would be a good catch. “I didn’t want you to end up with a bimbo,” she told him.

He didn’t. He ended up with one smart cookie, and their marriage was endorsed by the Darrah offspring. In the five years they had before Jim passed away in 2015, they enjoyed a life together, supporting various causes in Stockton, traveling and being with family.

And now Judy, who outlived the two men she loved, is gone.

It is hard to imagine the number of broken hearts in Stockton, today. Even if you saw her rarely, a get-together with Judy was special. A conversation was picked up as though no time had passed, that husky voice and easy laugh so familiar.

Friends have spent the time since Judy’s passing recalling their friend. “There are going to be Judy stories for a long time,” Gillian said. “She’s going to live on with friends, in
the community.”

“I wish they could name something after her,” Marlene said. “Generations from now, I want people to know about her. She was so very, very special. People who knew her appreciated that.”

In Judy’s memory, the family has requested donations to the following charities:
Hospice of San Joaquin:
Episcopal Church of St. Anne:
The Dr. Judith M. Chambers Endowed Fund for CIP leadership:
or the charity of your choice
To view the Tribute Video of Judith Chambers, scan the QR Code. The video was created by Barbara Daly, Daly Video and presented by United Way of San Joaquin at the Eleanor By Women United event held on July 27, 2023.

To read the University of the Pacific’s Tribute to Judith visit

Editor’s Note: Lori Gilbert, a friend of Judy Chambers, was a sports and features writer/columnist for The Stockton Record for 34 years. She met Judy when she
covered her wedding to Jim Darrah. Gilbert works as a writer in the Stanislaus State Office of Communications and Public Affairs.