Obituary: Jerome “Jerry” Garris


College dean, professor, sports car enthusiast, traveler

Beloved husband, father, and grandfather Jerome “Jerry” Garris died peacefully at home on June 27 with his wife and two sons by his side. He was 81 years old.

Jerry was born in San Francisco on January 13, 1939, to Irene Adams and Basil Garris. He grew up in San Francisco, Napa and Palo Alto before moving to Medford, Oregon with his family, where he graduated from Medford High School in 1957.

He attended Menlo College for two years when he met his future wife Penny, a student at nearby Palo Alto High School. He went on to graduate from San Francisco State University in 1962 while also working at British Motors, where he pursued his love of sports cars and was involved in the development of the Huffaker Genie racing car.

His enthusiasm for sports car racing and exotic cars began at an early age. He attended races with his father, who in the 1950s imported a Bugatti from England and later an Aston-Martin.

He married Penny Tonkin in 1962, and in 1963 the couple moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where he earned a master’s degree from Stockholms Universitet. In 1965 they returned to California where he completed his PhD in political science at UCLA.

In 1971 Jerry and his family moved to Claremont, where he had taken a job teaching government at Pomona College. He also taught for a couple years at Occidental College, in Los Angeles, from where he was recruited by Claremont Men’s College (later Claremont McKenna College) as assistant professor of political science.

He was soon tapped by CMC President Jack Stark to become dean of students and later vice president for student affairs, while continuing to teach courses on Congress and the presidency. 

In 1984 he left CMC to become dean of the faculty and later provost at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, a position he held for 14 years.

In 1998, he returned to CMC at President Stark’s invitation to become director of foundations and corporate relations. He quickly took on many additional roles at the college, including becoming vice president for academic affairs and later dean emeritus. He worked on many projects while at CMC and was a trusted advisor and friend to many.

While in Virginia and later in Claremont, he was very active in the Association of Schools and Colleges, leading several accreditation visits. Since 2015 he served on the board of Pilgrim Place, culminating in becoming chairman. He and his wife traveled extensively, visiting every continent except Antarctica. He studied ancient Egypt comprehensively and in 2005 visited Cairo, Luxor and Abu Simbel for the first time.

He was a member of the American Research Center in Egypt and frequently attended their lectures. He also continued his interest in Sweden, and was researching a book on the Scandinavian nation at the time of his death.

Hiking on our local trails with the La Verne Trail Trekkers as well as in the Sierras and abroad brought him much pleasure. He trekked to the top of Mount Whitney at the age of 64 and Mount Baldy at 78. 

He leaves behind many dear friends; his wife Penny; sons Christian and Alexander, both CMC graduates of whom he was very proud; grandchildren Nathaniel and Madeleine, whom he adored; daughter-in-law Brandi Garris; as well as his 100-year-old mother Irene.

A memorial service may be held in the future.


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