Knudson celebrated as compassionate, competent leader

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Judith Knudson
Judy Knudson

From her two years in Colombia as a Peace Corps volunteer to her eight years in Williamsburg as a city council member, Judy Knudson’s service has been defined by a unique combination of care and competence.

“Lots of people have [compassion],” said Tony Conyers, a former James City County community services manager and a founder of Olde Towne Medical Center. “What’s less common is the combination of that with objectivity and the ability to look at problems and come up with common sense solutions.”

Knudson, who chose not to run for re-election this year, will conclude her time on City Council June 30.

“The places she has touched are better off today because of the benefit of her thinking and logic and caring,” Conyers said.

Knudson said her Peace Corps service was the inspiration for her civic involvement in Williamsburg.

“It wasn’t until I was in Colombia, in a little village, that I realized exactly how much freedom we have in the United States,” she said. “It had never occurred to me that if there was a problem, you couldn’t go to your elected officials.”

Knudson would return to the U.S., marry, have children and live in various states across the country before settling in Williamsburg in 1980. She quickly immersed herself in public life, joining clubs, volunteering for the PTA and serving as the president of the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area.

She had lived in the area for 10 years when Jack Edwards, a former member of the JCC Board of Supervisors, asked her to run for the board. She became the first woman elected to that body and represented Jamestown from 1990 to 1993.

“I was sure she would be good because she is very smart and she is very policy oriented,” Edwards said. “She had the perspective of someone who had raised a family and had been involved in the kinds of questions families get involved in.”

While on the board, Knudson was supportive of Olde Towne Medical Center, a clinic for uninsured and medically underserved residents that opened during her final year as a supervisor. After losing her re-election bid in 1993, Knudson was recruited by Conyers to lead Olde Towne Medical Center as its executive director.

Conyers credits Knudson with transitioning Olde Towne Medical Center from a “grand experiment to a community fact of life.”

“She matured, stabilized and institutionalized Olde Towne,” Conyers said.”It was a grand experiment and one that I think exceeded any of our original expectations.”

Knudson, who was responsible for the center’s day-to-day operations and long-term planning, said working at Olde Towne Medical Center was the “most important thing [she] has ever done.”

“Olde Towne has provided a huge amount of good for the community,” Knudson said. “Olde Towne filled a need that was there that hadn’t been filled before and it does well.”

She left Olde Towne Medical Center in 2007 after 13 years at the helm. It wouldn’t be long before she considered running for public office again, this time as a resident of the City of Williamsburg.

Outgoing city council member Judy Knudson (center) stands with members of the Williamsburg Police Department. (Photo courtesy of the City of Williamsburg)
Outgoing city council member Judy Knudson (center) stands with members of the Williamsburg Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of the City of Williamsburg)

Knudson, who was a city planning commissioner at the time, recalled being in her living room when she decided to run for the City Council seat vacated by Mickey Chohany. She doubted she would win—four people, including a College of William & Mary student, were vying for the seat in 2008.

“I don’t know why [I won], but I did,” Knudson said.

She would do more than edge out her opponents—after incumbents Clyde Haulman and Paul Freiling handily retained their seats, Knudson secured the open seat with 1,059 votes, 142 more than the fourth place finisher, former mayor Gil Granger.

Highlights from her time on the city council include “calming down” conflicts between permanent residents and college students, coming out of the Great Recession in “pretty good shape” and hiring city manager Marvin Collins, she said.

“The city has been so stable in terms of its management,” Knudson said. “It was important to make sure we could find somebody who could contribute to the stability. I feel like we did that.”

Fellow council members say she proved she was the best choice for the seat throughout her eight years in office.

“I think she’s a model city council member,” said Mayor Clyde Haulman, who is also retiring from the council this week. “I think she really understands the issues that exist with hidden parts of our communities, individuals and neighborhoods that can really use help. I think she is just very insightful about that and a terrific advocate.”

Jeanne Zeidler, a former mayor, is also longtime friends with Knudson and said her commitment to people in need is a hallmark of her service on and off city council.

“That’s really one of her very strong characteristics that has been very consistent in all the years that I’ve known Judy,” Zeidler said. “She really cares about serving people who, for whatever reason, are at a stage in their life when they need support and help.”

Knudson said she would miss interacting with residents as well as city council members and staff. She encouraged incoming council members Barbara Ramsey and Benming “Benny” Zhang to pay attention and respect the different perspectives of fellow council members.

Her service extends beyond the board of supervisors, Olde Towne Medical Center and the city council—she has been a member of dozens of committees and served on the boards of major organizations in the Historic Triangle, including the Greater Williamsburg Area Chamber & Tourism Alliance, the Greater Williamsburg United Way and Williamsburg Landing.

But when asked what she’s planning to do next, Knudson said she’ll have to start “saying ‘no’ a lot,” and think about what she wants to do next.

“I’d like to be involved at some level,” Knudson said. “I want to see what happens in the city.”

For now, Zeidler said it’s time to recognize Knudson’s steadfast service to the greater Williamsburg area.

“I think, as a community, we should thank her,” Zeidler said.