'York County will miss her light': Friends, family remember Judith McCormick Higgins

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

"She cared for other people," Judith McCormick Higgins' husband of over 34 years, Kevin Higgins, said Monday. "She did so much."

Judith McCormick Higgins, 67, of Lower Windsor Township, died Sunday from cancer. She was known as a leader in the York County Democratic party, running for office several times as well as throwing her support behind local candidates.

Judith and Kevin met in the 1980s, when both served in the Air Force.

"She did a lot of stuff from the sidelines, she did not necessarily want to be center stage," Kevin Higgins said. "With the kids and with me, she was willing to do absolutely anything."

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28th Senate District Democratic candidate Judith McCormick-Higgins on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Judith McCormick Higgins, who served on the Eastern York School Board from 1994 to 2011, ran for office as a Democrat several times. That included campaigns against state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, for the 28th District in 2018 and 2022 as well as running for York County commissioner in 2019.

When they got married, Judith didn't know if she would live to 40 because of breast cancer, Kevin said. When she got it the second time at 45, she wasn't sure if she'd make it to 50.

She then did fundraising for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure walks, including participating in the 2011 Walk for the Cure in Philadelphia.

"She loved being outdoors, she wanted to see the world," Kevin Higgins said. "She loved riding motorcycles, did not want her own, she wanted to be a passenger. She loved the beach."

Campaign Manager Shane Cannon Coolbaugh, left, and candidate for Pennsylvania State Senate for District 28 Judith McCormick-Higgins during the York County Democrats watch party at Primanti Bros. Restaurant on Election Day in York Township, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

Shane Coolbaugh, her 2022 campaign manager, met Judith McCormick Higgins when he was interviewing candidates as part of the Young Democrats. He remembers Higgins taking time out of campaigning to appreciate the flowers in her backyard.

"At her core, she was an educator," Coolbaugh said. "I think her secret formula as an educator and a leader was to love the people she was working with."

Even as the candidate, Higgins would try to calm down Coolbaugh's anxiety, he said.

"She would just remind me to pause," Coolbaugh said.

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Higgins was an adjunct professor for Penn State York for over 20 years, teaching management, leadership and motivation and human resources, and earned her doctorate in adult education from Penn State in 2005. She also owned a small jewelry business.

"She was a very good friend," said York County Commissioner Doug Hoke, who ran with Higgins for commissioner in 2019. "She was just an all-around good person, and I know from all the people I know she will be severely missed."

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Deb Yonick Kalina, former president of the York County Federation of Democratic Women, met Higgins in that capacity in 2017. She had, however, corresponded with Higgins before because of Higgins' jewelry business; Yonick writes about jewelry professionally.

"She has been a force ever since I met her," Yonick said. She served as Higgins' communications manager in 2018 and 2019 when she ran for state Senate and county commissioner respectively.

A photo from Judith McCormick Higgins' celebration of life held April 10 at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Dallastown.

"York County will miss her light, and we will try our best to carry it on," Yonick said. "She brought to bear all of her talents as an educator, as an administrator, as a business person to try to make a difference wherever she could."

In her memory, the Federation of Democratic Women has established the Judith McCormick Higgins Candidate Development Grant Program to promote education for York County Democratic candidates.

Higgins held a celebration of life at St. Paul's United Church of Christ on April 10, where attendees could donate to some of her favorite charities.

"Even in her last hours, she was still trying to raise money for the causes she believed in," Yonick said. "She's just an amazing person."

That extended to donating her body to the National Institute of Health, where she had gone for clinical trials to treat the small cell lung cancer she developed later in life.

"That just goes along to who she was," Kevin Higgins said.

"Dr. Judith Higgins was the rare person who saw the good in everyone," the Democratic Party of York said Sunday on its Facebook page. "She was a lifelong teacher, whether in the classroom or running as a candidate. Her smile was infectious and her positivity and tenacity were unparalleled."

Along with her husband, Higgins leaves three sons, Joshua, Sean and Ryan, as well as daughter-in-law Jess and grandchildren Aden, Matt and Emma.

"She knew she didn't have long," Kevin Higgins said. "She's comfortable now. No more pain, no more issues. She can look over everybody from where she is."

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.