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Honoring one of our own bright stars, Darlene G. Davies, 1939-2022

Ranch & Coast Arts & Culture Editor exemplified a life exceptionally lived

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“Look!” Exclaimed Darlene G. Davies with delight. “The trees think it’s spring!” We were strolling through Balboa Park on a warm winter’s day in 2017, where even in mid-February, trees were bursting with white blooms. The park was alive with activity, filled with school children on field trips, tourists snapping pictures, couples with toddlers in tow, lovers, joggers, and pets. Mothers cast a watchful eye as their children scrambled about on Nikigator, sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle’s magical, fantastical creature in front of the Mingei Museum.

I remember our stroll vividly, and it’s a memory I cherish as I look back upon Davies’ enthusiasm for life. “It’s the people’s park,” I recall her saying with pride as we surveyed the scene. But the park was also uniquely hers, a place she lovingly and exhaustively researched and recorded in award-winning articles and series for Ranch & Coast, the Journal of San Diego History, and other publications. Her R&C piece about the San Diego Zoo Centennial won “Best of Show” for magazines at the 2016 San Diego Press Club awards. “I’m 77 years old, and I just won Best of Show,” exclaimed a jubilant Davies in both wonder and delight as she shared her award with our team. I still get teary-eyed when I remember this moment.

Portrait of Darlene G. Davies at Balboa Park
Darlene G. Davies

Davies earned many other accolades. Two of her stories, about the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and The Old Globe, were buried in a time capsule in the Craig Noel Garden during the park’s 2015 Centennial. The capsule will be opened in 2115. The often-honored historian of The Old Globe was also one of six women named to the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017 for working “tirelessly to improve the lives of other women and to bring change to their communities.”

For Davies, the seeds of that change — and her lifelong love of theater, culture, and community — were planted early in 1951, when as an 11-year-old, she and her father first walked across the Cabrillo Bridge into Balboa Park. “The Old Globe was like something out of a fairy tale,” she recalled. “It was so enchanting.” Davies was soon acting in productions for the Globe’s Junior Theatre Wing (now the San Diego Junior Theatre), on The Old Globe stage, at San Diego State College, and at Mission Playhouse, in dozens of roles. Her last Globe performance was in Odyssey in 2011, staged at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, named after her late husband with whom she shared a passion for the arts. For the past 35 years, retired television producer Paul Marshall was a constant presence in her life.

Davies was a professor emerita at San Diego State University, and she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech-language pathology there. She was chair of the Speech Pathology Department at Children’s Hospital, and the first director of the Speech and Hearing Clinic at Naval Medical Center in Balboa Park. Davies would go on to serve on numerous city, county, and cultural committees, and boards including the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Commission for Arts & Culture, the Balboa Park Committee, the County Commission on the Status of Women, The Old Globe, and the San Diego Museum of Natural History. She co-produced and co-wrote videos for
Mingei Museum, helped to create souvenir books for the Globe’s anniversaries, and researched and wrote the histories of many organizations, including The Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary, which has presented “Women of Dedication” for 56 years to honor philanthropic women in the San Diego area community. The auxiliary designated Davies as a “WOD” in 1989 for her years of community service, and she chaired the fête in 2007.

In recent years, Davies devoted much of her time to chronicling and cataloging the stories that comprise San Diego’s rich history. “I’m always chasing stories,” she often said. “Everybody, everybody has an interesting story. I don’t care who it is, and you can’t judge by the exterior. You can’t tell — it’s amazing! Go sit on a bus bench and just talk to the person sitting next to you.”

Davies, who turned 83 in April, noted years ago her need “to preserve things” as she grew older. She was anxious to record stories before people die, dementia takes hold, memories fade. “I have always been in a hurry,” she said. “Years ago, people would ask, ‘What is your hurry?’” She finally had the answer. “No matter how much I’ve hurried, I haven’t done a tenth of what I’d like to do,” she said. “There’s always more that you want to look into. Oh, if I just had two more lives.”   

We at Ranch & Coast are so fortunate to have had Davies in our lives, not only as Arts & Culture Editor for more than 28 years, but as a dear friend, mentor, and a never-ending source of inspiration. We send our love to Paul Marshall, her son David Gould, and all who knew and loved her. She will be deeply missed. The following is Davies’ final submission to Ranch & Coast.   Andrea Naversen


Lowell Davies and the E. W. Scripps Connection

The Scripps name is ubiquitous here in San Diego, with its deep impact felt throughout the worlds of medicine and science, including the vast Scripps Health organization and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. It reaches far beyond those realms alone, as well as our boundaries here, too. For instance, we recently learned the name Harini Logan, the Texas eighth grader who was the winner in a tie-breaker “spell-off” of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The goal was for the two finalists to correctly spell as many words as possible in a timed speed round. Logan was crowned the winner, correctly spelling 22 words in 90 seconds. Runner-up Vikram Raju spelled 15 words.

E. W. Scripps Company is an American entity that was formed in 1878 and became a powerful publishing enterprise. It was founded in Cleveland as a chain of daily newspapers by Edward Willis “E. W.” Scripps and his sister, Ellen Browning Scripps. At one point, the Scrippses owned 34 newspapers in 15 states. Of course, E. W. and Ellen Scripps are names well known to La Jollans, as the city later was home to both.

Closer to my heart, there is also a connection between the E. W. Scripps Company and San Diegan Lowell Davies, my beloved late husband who was the longtime president of The Old Globe and whose name graces the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.

Black & white photo of Lowell Davies circa 1911
Lowell Davies circa 1911

Though from San Francisco, Davies spent the last year of the First World War stationed at Fort Rosecrans in Point Loma. According to Davies, when the war ended in 1918, he heard about a job opening while at the old YMCA in downtown San Diego.

E. W. Scripps was looking for a private secretary, and though he possessed only a sixth-grade education, Davies knew he was a first-class stenographer, so he applied for the position and got it. For the following year, he took dictation, organized the Scripps library, mailed letters and packages, and ordered large quantities of books from catalogs. As Davies told it, Scripps’ wife spent many hours reading the new books to her husband. When visitors arrived on the train, Davies also greeted them and provided transportation. Through all these experiences, a new world opened to him as he encountered fresh ideas and observations on every subject.

He also learned a life lesson. One of Scripps’ activities involved writing what he called “white papers,” disquisitions on myriad topics. He, of course, dictated them to Davies, and one in particular caught Davies’ eye. It was on the subject of personal independence, and Scripps developed a convincing case for no one working for anyone but himself, thus not having to bend to the will of others. That impressed Davies so much that he quit his position as Scripps’ private secretary and never again worked for anyone but himself. Even as a lawyer later in life, he worked only for his own law firm, the one with his name on the door.

This is the oral story Lowell Davies told and it is retold from bits and pieces of memory.   Darlene G. Davies

Featured Photo Darlene G. Davies
Image Credits Darlene: Photo by Vincent Knakal; Lowell: Photo courtesy of Darlene Davies photo collection

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