Gerald “Jerry” Watson, who has served on Chemeketa Community College’s Board of Education since 1991, passed away Sept. 25 at the age of 67.
During his years on Chemeketa’s board, Watson, an attorney, former college professor and Salem native, established himself as a strong supporter for community colleges, advocating for Chemeketa and other community colleges in the halls of the State Capitol and nationally.
“We will miss Jerry’s passion for Chemeketa and his ability to quickly grasp complex issues,” said JoAnne Beilke, long-time Chemeketa board member and current board chair. “Mostly we will miss his insights and wry humor.”
“Jerry Watson was on the Chemeketa Board of Education for over 20 years,” President Cheryl Roberts said. “We will not only miss his keen mind, excellent problem-solving skills, and advocacy for student access and learning, but we will miss his grasp of what makes Chemeketa so special.”
Watson was born and raised in Salem, graduating from North Salem High School and receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from Willamette University. He continued his education outside of Salem, receiving both a master’s and doctorate in political science from the University of Florida and a law degree from the University of Colorado. He then began a career as a political science professor, spending 12 years at the University of Northern Colorado and 5 years at the University of Portland. He left academia for a law practice, but continued to teach law and political science at Willamette and Western Oregon University.
He was elected to the Chemeketa board in March 1991, and was appointed to the board in May 1991. He was in his sixth full elected term and twice served as the board chair. Including time spent as a member of the college’s budget committee, Watson’s service to the community with Chemeketa lasted over 26 years. Watson represented Zone 6 on the board, which encompasses the northern portion of Keizer and northern Marion County, including the communities of Woodburn, Mt. Angel and Aurora.
“Community colleges provide access to education for all and are an important part of the democratic experiment in our society,” Watson wrote for the Statesman Journal in 1999. “Community colleges can and do make important differences in the lives of people, particularly those who may need that help the most.”
Watson’s public service extended beyond the Chemeketa board. He was twice elected to the board of the Association of Community College Trustees, which represents community colleges throughout the United States and Canada. He served a term on the Keizer City Council from 1993 to 1997 and is recognized for advocating for the expansion of the library system throughout the Salem-Keizer area.
“I wanted to get involved, to begin making decisions rather than just recommending decisions,” Watson once said in a Marion County Bar Association bulletin. “I don’t like to complain about things, unless I’m willing to get involved myself.”