Celebrating the chapters of Judy Chambers’ remarkable life

Through the many chapters of her life—pioneer, educator, civic leader, national higher education influencer, confidante, mentor and devoted friend—Judy Chambers' friends and colleagues reflected on her innumerable accomplishments and devotion to University of the Pacific and its students at a moving Celebration of Life service.

Pacific’s inaugural vice president for student life died July 11 at the age of 87. A private ceremony was held July 29 in her beloved Morris Chapel, followed by a public tribute in historic Faye Spanos Concert Hall with more than 500 family, friends, former colleagues, civic and community leaders and the university’s top leadership in attendance.

“Judy Chambers helped make this great university what it is today, always focused on the success of our students and building meaningful long lasting, life-long relationships,” said President Christopher Callahan. “Judy Chambers made all of us better. She made all of us more caring. She sometimes made us funnier. And she always made us more focused on the success of our students, the success of our friends and the success of our communities.”

Six friends, colleagues and mentees of the iconic Pacifican, whom the president called “the grande dame of Pacific,” spoke about their memories and the enduring impact of a figure central to California’s first university since her arrival as a first-year undergraduate in 1954.

The Pioneer

Chambers was a trailblazer throughout her career—especially for women. She was the first female member of cabinet at Pacific and was laser focused on student success long before it was commonplace.

Her initiatives remain an integral part of Pacific: a learning center for skills development, the Services for Students with Disabilities Office and the first multicultural affairs position, among many others.

“She taught us that there are many ways to achieve a goal. That it takes vision, determination, time, patience, tenacity, also that a keen sense of humor is a great ingredient that will take you very far—and we all know she did,” said Associate Professor Susan Giraldez ’80, who first knew Chambers when she was a student and later editor-in-chief of the Pacifican campus newspaper.

Chambers also paved the way beyond the gates of Pacific. After a Supreme Court ruling opened the door for women to join clubs in Rotary International, one of the largest service organizations in the world, Chambers was nominated for membership in 1987. She became the first woman to join the Stockton club.

“I know some of you from Stockton Rotary are here. I bet your lunches got so much more fun,” Giraldez said.

The Educator

The embodiment of Pacific’s values, everything Chambers did was centered around students and their success.

She gained deep insight and experience working with students while teaching speech classes as a graduate student, dean of women at Mt. Union College in Ohio and assistant professor of speech at Mt. Union, which she carried into her role as vice president at Pacific.

“Judy realized that a division of student life could provide much more than just nutritious food, a place to sleep and wellness facilities,” said Professor Emeritus Gene Pearson, who first met her as a faculty member in the 1970s. “Student life could also provide life-changing education through career counseling, recreational opportunities and by supporting a diversity of student-led organizations that helped students develop both social and leadership skills.”

Chambers was skilled at finding ways to bring faculty and students together. She established a three-day orientation program to help students transition from high school to college. The orientation included faculty members and upper-level Pacific students to help guide first-year students.

In the 1980s, Chambers introduced themed residence halls focused on healthy lifestyles, intercultural experiences and leadership and community involvement. Faculty were asked to hold office hours in the halls and help with programming, Pearson recalled for the Faye Spanos audience.

The Civic Leader

Chambers left her mark throughout the community as a member of numerous non-profits and civic organizations.

Her talent for bringing people together was evident as she volunteered for the United Way, was on the Transitional Learning Center board, president of the Delta Health Care board and the Stockton Chamber of Commerce board, among many others.

“Judy loved Stockton and she gave completely of her talent, her empathy and her service to its organizations and its people,” said Kathleen Janssen ’68, a long-time friend, fellow Stockton civic leader and former chair of the Board of Regents. “She changed for the better every organization, every group and every person that she encountered.”

The National Higher Education Leader

NASPA, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, was Chambers’ “home away from home,” according to Regent Greg Boardman, former vice provost for student affairs at Stanford University who started his student life career at Pacific under the mentorship of Chambers. They remained close friends through the years.

A decade after joining the organization, she became its president in 1986. Under her leadership, the association moved from Ohio to Washington, D.C. to better advocate for higher education.

She received three awards from NASPA during her lifetime, including its highest honor, the John L. Blackburn Distinguished Pillar Award.

“Judy put University of the Pacific on the student affairs map,” Boardman said. “Despite all these awards, I know what meant more to Judy were the many friendships she made over the years and the hundreds of new and mid-level professionals she mentored and kept in touch with.”

Chambers also was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the board of directors for Sallie Mae, the first woman and non-university president appointed.

The Confidante and Advisor

Over her seven decades at Pacific, Chambers forged deep relationships with students and colleagues, from the very first students she worked with all the way up to current Pacific students, including incoming student body president Izzy Gomez, who received her scholarship in 2021.

The Judith M. Chambers Endowed Scholarship for CIP Leadership supports first-generation, low-income students from Stockton.

Chambers provided tremendous insight and wisdom to current Vice President for Student Life Maria Blandizzi, whether it was how to handle something related to student life or what to make for dinner—“reservations,” she was known to quip.

“Judy liked to quote President (Robert) Burns who said, ‘everything good that has ever happened in your whole life, Judy, is a result of University of the Pacific.’ I say back to you now Judy, everything that is good that has ever happened in student life is a result of you,” Blandizzi said.

The Mentor and Lifelong Friend

Chambers’ last official act at Pacific was at the spring 2023 commencement, where she bestowed the Order of the Pacific on Norm Allen ’88, ’94, the outgoing chair of the Board of Regents.

Chambers became his mentor during Allen’s time as an undergraduate when he served as president of ASuop. Allen went on to earn his Pacific degree from the McGeorge School of Law, become chair of the Pacific Alumni Association and then served nine years as a Regent, the last three as chair. He attributes much of his success to the mentorship of Chambers.

“She believed in the transformative power of a Pacific education, and she believed in students and in turn students believed in her,” Allen said.

To those who knew her—and seemingly everyone did—Chambers was a legend in her own time.

After the Celebration of Life, guests enjoyed a lunch reception and wine toasts at the Don and Karen DeRosa University Center. Don DeRosa was one of nine presidents Chambers worked with over a span of more than 50 years. The photo essay of Chambers that was played at the reception can be viewed here.

The entire Celebration of Life at Faye Spanos Concert Hall can be viewed here, including an opening rendition of her favorite song, “Pacific Hail!”, and a moving finale, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” by talented May graduate Filo Ebid ’23.

Chambers’ family has requested gifts be made to the Dr. Judith M. Chambers Endowed Scholarship for CIP Leadership.