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Doug Davis

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Obituary: Educator, activist Doug Davis 'lived his values'

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • February 7, 2012 - 11:26 PM

Active until days before his death Jan. 27 at age 91, Doug Davis was a passionate advocate for the bargaining rights of teachers and for senior health care.

A 30-year social studies teacher who spanned the old and new Minneapolis South High School buildings, he sported a red bow tie with matching socks -- props to keep his students focused, according to his daughters Jill Davis, a Minneapolis school board member, and Diane Davis Langer.

He also sported a black beret in his retirement years, whether reading with a neighborhood writing group or lobbying for senior issues at the State Capitol. Former teaching colleague Dave Berg recalled that Davis seemed to know where every lawmaker could be found.

Davis graduated from Edison High School in 1938 and went to work because the family lacked money for college. He enlisted in 1942, served in an Army engineering unit that built airfields in England and landed in Normandy on D-Day. His daughters remember him commemorating each June 6 by quizzing people he met -- even grocery store bag boys -- to make sure they recalled it as the day of the landings.

Within two weeks of arriving home from the war, he was in college on the GI Bill.

Davis taught during the emergence of a more militant brand of teacher unionism sparked by World War II veterans like him. Davis was one of the union teachers in Minneapolis who risked losing their jobs with an illegal strike in 1970. Their stand prompted the Legislature to legalize teacher strikes the following year. As a teacher, Davis was a master of provoking debate, often taking positions to get his students to consider other views, Berg said.

His early teaching years were tough while he also raised four children as a single parent. His daughters remember him making out menus like lesson plans and rehearsing lectures during breakfast. He was a student adviser in theater and debate at South.

But Wednesday nights were reserved for union meetings. He sat on the board of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers for 15 years and was a city labor delegate for 27 years. He could be blunt on union matters. Union colleague Louise Sundin remembers his riposte to a candidate for labor backing who gave a long evasive answer: "Listen, Missy, you are either for seniority or you're against it."

After retiring, he took on senior issues, lobbying as a volunteer for the Minnesota Senior Federation, starting retiree associations for union members and serving on the board of Northeast Senior Services.

He helped successfully lobby the Legislature to save the failing Minneapolis teacher pension fund by merger. He made his 90th birthday a fundraiser for Northeast Senior Services; he served on its board until resigning four days before he died. "Doug just believed that every individual deserves to live with dignity," the agency's director, Kay Anderson, said.

Diane Langer recalls how when she threw an annual party, friends would call to check whether her dad was coming and then line up for a chance to talk to him. "He lived his values every day," Jill Davis said. "It didn't matter the setting."

He turned drives with his grandchildren into lectures on history, but granddaughter Dahli Langer also remembers the two of them rolling down the car windows and cranking up classical music to full volume when a car with a booming stereo pulled up nearby.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Mount Carmel Lutheran Church, 1701 St. Anthony Parkway, Minneapolis at 3 p.m., with visitation at 2 p.m.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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