Community

Local woman was strong advocate for uniting care workers

SEIU Healthcare 775NW is mourning the death of a career caregiver and an executive board member.

Judy Harris, 70, died Feb. 21, in her Port Orchard home.

According to Jackson Holtz, media relations for SEIU Healthcare 775NW, Harris fell ill last month and was diagnosed with metastatic cancer.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare 775 is a Pacific Northwest local representing long-term care workers. SEIU represents more than 2 million workers worldwide.

“It goes without saying that Judy was an amazing, inspirational leader of our fight and will truly be missed by the SEIU family,” said David Rotf, SEIU 775NW president. “Judy was an incredible example of what it means to be a leader, an advocate and a friend. Judy has inspired and touched so many with the work she has done all over this nation fighting for justice.”

Holtz said despite her petite frame, Harris always was an oversized presence whether she was gathering signatures at a ferry landing or meeting lawmakers in Olympia.

“She fiercely fought for justice in the halls of government in both Washingtons, often sweetening her lobbying with homemade pies,” Holtz said.

“In my nine years in public service I can tell you that Judy Harris was someone that I cherished — her commitment to serving, her compassion, her impassioned advocacy,” said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, of the Sixth Congressional District.

Kilmer spent time with Harris at rallies in Olympia and he spent a day walking in her shoes while she cared for her client, David.

“By the end of the day I was exhausted physically and emotionally . . . and so grateful that Judy and other caregivers do the work they do to help people live with dignity,” Kilmer said.

The congressman said he hopes that she now has found the peace she brought to others.

“They say that when someone passes the wind blows — the stronger the soul, the stronger the wind,” Kilmer said. ”The winds will be howling for a while around here. We’ll miss you, Judy.”

Holtz said Harris traveled all over the country knocking on doors and talking to caregivers. Her first trip was to Missouri in 2006, where she brought hope to caregivers struggling in poverty. For her efforts, she was awarded the “Member Organizer of the Year Award” by her union.

Holtz said Harris drove across Montana, from Lame Deer to Kalispell, uniting caregivers in the union. All in all, Harris knocked on doors in nine states, most recently in 2012 in Connecticut.

“Judy relished these trips as much as any other part of her work, constantly asking — demanding really — to know when the next chance she would have to tell her story to other caregivers,” Holtz said. “There are tens thousands of caregivers around the country whose lives Judy changed for the better. Judy also was a tireless advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.”

A memorial service was held Feb. 28 and a celebration of Harris’ life is planned for Saturday, March 8.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Judy Harris Memorial Fund can be made at www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/judy-harris-memorial-fund/141862.

 

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