Judith Ann Uherbelau
August 1, 1938 – June 24, 2019
Judith H. Uherbelau, 80, died June 24, 2019 in her daughters' arms. She was the loving, exacting and singular guide of their lives.
She was born Judith Ann Harriff at home in Masury, Ohio Aug. 1, 1938, to Audrey Beane and Richard C. Harriff. As a young girl, she was precocious, studious and athletic. After graduating high school, Judy trained to be a nurse and embarked on a career that enabled her to see the country and the world. She worked in emergency rooms across the U.S., earning a front row seat to history. In Washington, D.C., Judy joined tens of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1966, she joined the Peace Corps and was a nursing instructor on Saipan in the Northern Marianas.
During her service in the islands, she met a young Palauan named Victorio Uherbelau. Judy and Vic wed in 1968, a time when interracial marriages in the United States were extremely uncommon - and in some states, still illegal. They moved to Los Angeles where they had two daughters, Angela and Rebecca. Judy and Vic separated as a couple, but remained friends until Vic's death in 2017.
Undaunted by hard work, Judy went back to school as a single mother, earning a Bachelor's in Political Science and Economics at Ball State University and a Juris Doctorate from UCLA School of Law. Looking to find a small town in which to raise her two young daughters, Judy called her brother, Bill Harriff, in Oregon who said: "You've got to check out this place!" Judy, Angela and Becca piled into their 1974 Mazda GLC and drove up I-5 from L.A. to Ashland where Judy then lived and practiced law for over 40 years. She served on countless boards and commissions including Ashland Community Hospital, Jackson County AIDS Taskforce, Jackson County Habitat for Humanity, Oregon State Bar Ethics Committee and Ashland High School Health Clinic.
In 1994, Judy was encouraged by Oregon State Representative Nancy Peterson to consider running for her seat upon Nancy's retirement. Despite being told she couldn't win as an unknown who didn't wear makeup and had an unpronounceable last name, Judy was elected to represent District 52 - by 55 votes. Don't let anyone ever tell you that your vote doesn't count! Judy went on to serve three terms in the Oregon House of Representatives where she was known for her focus on policy, not politics. Judy had a true public servant's heart. She read every bill in its entirety and was fiercely dedicated to her constituents, regardless of their party. She would call back any one who contacted her to weigh in on an issue – especially those with whom she had a differing opinion. She'd say: "I want them to know that they were heard, even if we disagree…..but, I am right."
Judy was renowned for not suffering fools. Both of Judy's daughters worked for her in the legislature and often had to convince her not to send scathing letters to lobbyists with phrases like "When God handed out brains, you thought he meant trains - and missed the station."
In 1996 and 1997, Judy was chosen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to supervise elections in Bosnia. Never an adventurous eater, she knew herself well enough to come prepared and filled her luggage with jars of peanut butter and jelly.
In her retirement, Judy was proud to be appointed by two governors to the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission and the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board. She began to split her time between Ashland and Portland where she lived within walking distance of her daughters and grandchildren.
Parts of the last two years of Judy's life were hard. She struggled with chronic nerve pain, the beginnings of dementia and the lasting impacts of living with lupus for four decades. Her family is forever grateful for the kind, expert primary care Judy received from Dr. Melissa Novak and the entire Gabriel Park practice, as well as the supportive community Judy found at Hawthorne Gardens Senior Living.
Judy found joy in the habits of a lifetime - reading a daily newspaper, watching the evening news, cheering for her beloved Blazers and gathering for raucous family dinners where hardly anyone could get a word in edgewise.
When the end came, her wishes were honored by OHSU's comfort care which focuses on a dignified, pain free death. For three days and two nights, her daughters sat and slept beside her, singing, telling stories and holding her hands.
Judy was preceded in death by her beloved parents and brother, Bill Harriff. She is survived by her brother, Richard Harriff (Kathleen) of Solana Beach, Calif.; sister-in-law, Kris Davis, of Australia; daughters, Angela Uherbelau (Curtis Robinhold) and Becca Uherbelau (Jim Castle) of Portland; nieces and nephews, Colleen Harriff Schuller and Dan, Michael and Seth Harriff; grandchildren, Loretta, Hyde, Beatrix and Mirabel; and a host of far flung family and friends.
Never one to stand on ceremony, Judy requested that there be no formal service. She would, however, appreciate you celebrating her life in whatever way brings you happiness, especially if it involves dark chocolate. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Oregon Food Bank or Ashland Emergency Food Bank.