Pew Remembers Alan Davis (Summer 2007 Trust Magazine briefing)

  • August 20, 2007

The Pew Charitable Trusts mourns the death of Alan J. Davis, a member of the board, who died on May 8. He was known as a superb defense lawyer and dedicated public servant—“one of the most brilliant, principled, creative and original thinkers the Philadelphia legal community has ever had,” said Mark A. Aronchick, former chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. Mr. Davis was a partner with the law firm of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, where he practiced in the areas of commercial litigation, securities and criminal and municipal law. In 2002, he was listed in The Best Lawyers in America, a referral guide to the legal profession compiled through peer-review surveys.

He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Harvard University, serving as editor of the Law Review. He was recruited from private law practice into public service in 1966 by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who at the time was Philadelphia's district attorney. As chief of the appeals division, “he made some of the finest arguments in the history of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” said Sen. Specter.

Mr. Davis served as city solicitor in the 1980s, and in 1998 the city named its law library for him. The invitation to the dedication cited Mr. Davis's credo that “creativity, brilliance and principle start with a commitment to study, think and dream,” and noted that the library “will long inspire others to achieve this vision of professionalism and excellence.”

In the 1990s, Mr. Davis served the city and the school district as lead negotiator in labor talks. Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, who was mayor at the time, called him an “unsung hero” in helping the city avert fiscal disaster, saying, “He was as responsible for the city's turnaround as any single person.”

“I haven't been brought into easy situations,” Mr. Davis observed in a newspaper interview in the mid-'90s.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger, whose 1998 book A Prayer for the City follows the Rendell administration from the inside, wrote an essay on Mr. Davis that appeared on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer the day after he died. “I loved to hear him talk,” Mr. Bissinger recalled, “because his observations were shrewd and unpredictable and always to the bone. But I also noticed that he liked to listen, was curious about the world and understood that the only way to sustain that curiosity was to let others talk about it.”

Mr. Davis, the reporter continued, was “brilliant, but also intellectually voracious, wise without a hint of pedantry—and perhaps most special of all, kind and gentle, away from the litigiousness that was his life.”

Mr. Davis served on the Pew board from February 27, 2004, until his death. Grateful for his devotion and service, the institution's board and staff benefited from his wisdom, compassion and resolute optimism in improving the quality of life for all.