Social, environmental advocate Mary Davey dies following heart illness

Davey dies of heart-related condition at Kaiser Hospital, ending decades of civic leadership in housing and envrionmental causes

Mary Davey, who divided her energies between supporting environmental and social causes, died Saturday evening at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City, surrounded by family, following a heart-related illness.

Davey was the current president of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Board of Directors, and she had been involved in the formation of the district in 1972 -- she has called it her favorite accomplishment.

"It's a forever kind of thing," she said of the district's acquisitions, now approaching 60,000 acres, in a 2007 interview with the Weekly in May, 2007, when she was recognized with a Lifetimes of Achievement award by the Avenidas senior organization.

But her list of community activities has the comprehensive quality of a directory, with advocacy of fair housing high up in her priorities over the years.

Her involvements included serving as director Midpeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing; assistant to the executive director of Economic and Social Opportunities; chief executive officer of Advocates for Women, Santa Clara County; Executive Offices housing advisor; president and CEO of Peninsula Volunteers, Inc. and Planned Parenthood Santa Clara County; interim executive director of Palo Alto Red Cross; executive director of City of Palo Alto Centennial and Palo Alto Endowment Fund (now Palo Alto Community Fund); and a board member of Hidden Villa.

She served as mayor of Los Altos Hills in 1966, but her advocacy of fair housing caused her to be recalled from the Town Council in 1973.

She and her husband, Jack Davey, a retired engineer, also were world travelers, visiting 64 countries -- including witnessing the effects of displacement of 1.5 million people in China to build a dam on the Yangtse River.

Davey was a native of Columbus, Ohio, and was raised in a three-generation household. Her father was a surgeon at Ohio State University who did early research in the role of Iodine in preventing disease. Her mother was the first woman to serve in the diplomatic foreign service.

An avid reader, she was an English and government major in college.

She married Jack Davey, then in the U.S. Air Force, during the Korean War and the couple moved to Baltimore, Md. -- where she ran into pervasive housing discrimination against Jews and racial minorities and first became active in fair-housing advocacy. She served on the city's first Human Relations Commission, and helped open up the schools to persons of color.

They moved to Los Altos Hills in 1961.

In addition to Jack, Davey is survived by Jack

Kit Davey & Tom Podoll of Redwood City; John P. Davey III & M.J. of Atherton;Curt Davey & Charolotte of Missoula, Mt.; and four grandchildren.

Davey has had heart problems for several years, and underwent two prior operations during which she nearly died. She recovered enough to continue serving on the open space district board and maintain other activities.

Davey, frequently described as "ebullient" in her approach to life and people, combined a deep optimism with a realistic assessment of how far society has yet to go, both socially and environmentally.

"I learned that humanity and people are basically built with the same good hopes and the same good aspirations. I honestly think we're all built with that goodness in us," she said in the 2007 interview.

Memorial services are pending.

Related story:

Lifetimes of Achievement: Mary Davey (2007)

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