A Life Well Lived: Shining a light on one of our own bright stars, Darlene Davies
Posted on March 1, 2017
“Look!” exclaims Darlene Davies with delight. “The trees think it’s spring!” We are strolling through Balboa Park, where even in mid-February, trees are bursting with white blooms. The park is alive with activity on this warm winter’s day, 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 scramble about on “Nikigator,” sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle’s magical, fantastical creature in front of the Mingei Museum.
“It’s the people’s park,” says Davies with pride as we survey the scene. But the park is also uniquely hers, a place she has 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 last year’s San Diego Press Club awards.) And 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.
Now, the often honored historian of the Old Globe Theatre has a new accolade. This month, she is one of six women named to the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame 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 theatre, 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 recalls. “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 in 2011 was in Odyssey at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, named after her late husband, with whom she shared a passion for the arts. For the past 30 years, retired television producer Paul Marshall has been a constant presence in her life.
Davies, a professor emerita at San Diego State University, 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 Park 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 has researched and written the histories of many organizations.
Davies now devotes much of her time to chronicling and cataloguing the stories that comprise San Diego’s rich history. “I’m always chasing stories,” she says. “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 turns 78 in April, notes her need “to preserve things” as she’s grown older. She’s anxious to record stories before people die, dementia takes hold, memories fade. “I have always been in a hurry,” she says. “Years ago, people would ask, ‘What is your hurry?’” Now, at this stage in her life, she finally has the answer. “No matter how much I’ve hurried, I haven’t done a tenth of what I’d like to do,” Davies reflects. “There’s always more that you want to look into. Oh, if I just had two more lives!” Andrea Naversen
Portrait: Photo by Vincent Knakal SDJT: Photo courtesy of Darlene G. Davies Odyssey: Photo by J. Katarzyna Woronowicz