Butte recently lost one of its best ladies for all times. Judy Jacobson was 80 when she died on June 20, surrounded by her loving family. She was the first woman to become a State senator from Butte in 1980. She was the first and only woman to become Chief Executive of Butte-Silver Bow in 2000. She was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
But she was so much more than that, which can’t be adequately captured in words. As I remembered my own times with Judy, my mind’s eye kept coming back to a photo of her I’d seen many times before.
On a wall in the reception area of the Chief Executive’s office in the courthouse are portrait photos of all eight of Butte’s Chief Executives dating back to the seventies with Mario “Mike” Micone. In the midst of seven men, Judy’s portrait stands out, not just because she is the only woman.
Her eyes crystal clear and compassionate, her grin warm and assuring, her arms crossed casually but more confidently, Judy’s portrait is a posture of poise and purpose. In my opinion, it masterfully captures a woman who was all of these things and more. The Quintessential Judy, whom many of us were lucky to have known and loved.
My two sons affectionately knew her and called her “Beauty,” mishearing “Judy” for the first time when they were young. She chuckled good when we told her, and she and her husband were heretofore referred to as “John and Beauty.” We were last blessed with Judy’s company when she came to our house on St. Patrick’s Day. With our families, we celebrated Butte’s big day sharing conversation and laughter, corned beef and cabbage and of course, a glass or two of Jameson.
Personally, first as a candidate and then as a successor to the Chief Executive office, I greatly appreciated her well-placed advice and support. Even-tempered and without any nonsense, the delivery of her experienced guidance and constructive criticism was always well received. Anything seeming too harsh she always softened with her kind heart and witty humor.
As a chief executive, she served with the same standards. She empowered her administration with trust and confidence in their abilities to accomplish whatever the tasks were at hand. Judy had her own way of doing things and many of the things she did were great.
Judy represented Butte as a member of the Natural Resource Damage Program’s Upper Clark Fork River Basin Citizen Advisory Council, which makes decisions on how and where to spend the funds the State of Montana received in its landmark environmental lawsuit with the Atlantic Richfield Company, settled in 1999. In this capacity, she served our community and the Upper Clark Fork basin very, very well.
Judy piloted the first reaches of restoration on Silver Bow Creek, including the start of our Greenway trail system. She also oversaw the expenditure of millions of dollars into fixing our ailing water system and Basin Creek dams, acquiring prime open spaces like our Big Butte, and restoring important tributaries like Browns Gulch and German Gulch, the latter of which is the biggest reason we now have Westslope cutthroat trout in Silver Bow Creek. She was also a strong supporter to fund the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program.
We can also recall that Judy was the chief executive who worked with Montana Resources (MR) back in 2003 to restore our community’s functional title as “The Mining City.” High electricity prices and a depressed copper market forced MR to suspend its operations in the early 2000s. Over 300 families suddenly found themselves out of work and the local government was reeling with how to fill the void of one of its largest taxpayers. Working with MR and community leaders, Judy led the important decisions to get the mine operating again and our families back to work.
Judy Jacobson was one heck of a woman. She was also someone who helped do an awful lot of good for a whole lot of people. She was a hard worker and a deep thinker with a humor and compassion to keep her people warm. She knew and loved our Montana ways and she justly fought to keep them and even make them better.
Thank you, Judy. Butte wouldn’t be the same without your service. Rest in peace for what you did for others and knowing you will be fondly remembered.
Photo cutline: The quintessential Judy Jacobson. This photo hangs among the portraits of other past Chief Executives in the offices at Butte’s courthouse. None of her executive colleagues are as elegantly posed or poised as Judy.