Since 1962, women have been at the forefront of Green Foothills’ work to protect our region’s ecological health. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are recognizing the achievements of three remarkable women who dedicated much of their lives to Green Foothills – Lois Hogle, Ruth Spangenberg, and Mary Davey – by writing a piece about each of them in future blog articles. Taking up leadership roles in the 1960s environmental movement, they were true pioneers, laying the path for future generations to follow.
Remembering Mary Davey
I met Mary only once in 2009 while walking through a corridor of the Peninsula Conservation Center, a building in Palo Alto that houses many local nonprofits. She was setting up for a Green Foothills board meeting and I was a recently-hired organizer at the Sierra Club. It was a very quick encounter – a passing smile, a “hello” and, a “very nice to meet you!” – but I was immediately struck by her presence and warmth. She was a force and the kind of person who made this young advocate want to be at her best because she believed everyone could be their best.
“She had an incredible positive energy, an uncanny talent for bringing out the best in people, and a strong vision of a better world. That’s a formidable combination!” said Jeff Segall, a former Board President of Green Foothills. “Mary could be a hard person to say no to, in part because she was so personally charming but also because you knew she wouldn’t ask if she wasn’t completely committed herself. When I think of all that she accomplished and all the people she personally inspired with her joyful enthusiasm and steely determination, it all comes back to that signature Mary Davey greeting “Wonderful People!”
Mary Davey joined the Green Foothills’ Board of Directors in 1968 and served repeatedly until her passing in 2010. Her invaluable decades of service left an indelible mark on the organization as a tireless advocate of Green Foothills’ mission committed to engaging the community in our work.
Mary was the first to bring to the board concerns over potential development in Coyote Valley in the early 1970s, and was a driving force behind the campaign to found the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1972 when Green Foothills and our partners realized that without a public agency to buy open space, it would be impossible to achieve our mission.
I joined Green Foothills as Executive Director in 2013 and have served in this role since. Though she passed away three years before my first day, her spirit flows through every conversation at the organization a decade later. The Green Foothills team is tireless, we are good to one another, and we go about our work with heart. When our board of directors approved our first official values statement in spring of 2019, we might as well have been defining Mary’s values: Expertise, Persistence, Integrity, and Camaraderie. It was Mary who helped to shape these values for Green Foothills and I can imagine the organization shaped Mary. Speaking for myself, just as Mary made me want to be a better person when I met her, working for Green Foothills gives me the same feeling.
“Mary was a visionary who brought joy and inspiration wherever she went. She made an ordinary person feel extraordinary” said Matt Burrows, former Board President of Green Foothills. “We used to joke that her Rolodex was a treasure trove of movers and shakers. If Green Foothills had a thorny problem, Mary could just dial up the key people to solve it. She was strategic, positive, and undaunted by big challenges.”
A Lifetime Of Public Service and Environmental and Social Justice Activism
Mary’s lifetime of public service went far beyond Green Foothills as she poured her time into other nonprofits including Hidden Villa, the Sempervirens Fund, and the Midpeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing.
She was a committed social justice advocate. She co-founded Midpeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing in 1965, whose purpose is to ensure equal opportunity in the rental or purchase of housing, and was an active member of their board of directors for decades. After serving on the Los Altos Hills Town Council from 1966 to 1973, she was recalled because she wanted to see low-income housing built in the Town.
Mary’s public service also extended to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District which, the agency she galvanized the community to support. In 1994, She was elected onto the District’s Board of Directors and served in this position until her passing.
As her daughter, Kit Davey has said, “Public service, social justice, and environmental activism defined her life. A key memory of my childhood were the meetings she held in our living room as she persistently moved forward campaign after campaign.” Mary’s husband, Jack Davey, was naturally an ardent supporter of Mary and enjoyed hosting countless Green Foothills events and other community group meetings at their family’s home.
Mary was someone who knew how to get things done. “Perhaps her greatest legacy lay in the effort to secure the Peninsula Conservation Center building so that environmental nonprofits would forever have a home on the peninsula,” said Jerry Hearn, a local environmental hero in his own right. “Mary chaired the Trust Fund that was created to raise $650,000 for the purchase in 1993, doing much of the fundraising herself from countless community members, spearheaded finding a location, and spent the next decade seeing it grow into the community asset it is today. Thanks to Mary, organizations like Green Foothills have a home to do their good work.”
It’s been nearly a decade since her passing, but we remember and thank her for her lifetime of service. Mary will always be a part of the soul of this region.