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Virginia Elizabeth Davis ’65

A picture of Virginia Davis

Courtesy of Dylan Mitchell

Virginia Elizabeth Davis ’65, October 22, 2013, in Portland. Ginny earned a degree in history at Reed, completing the thesis “Henry Adams: A Political Biography of an American Intellectual.” After graduation, she worked at Harvard Business School, intending to enter the doctoral program in communications. Diagnosed with schizophrenia in her 20s, Ginny spent two decades in and out of psychiatric institutions. Prof. Jack Dudman ’42 [mathematics and dean of students 1953–85] and Barbara Reid Dudman ’60 [mathematics 1966–69] were instrumental in Ginny’s care during the difficulties she encountered while she was at Reed and when she returned to Portland in the late ’70s. Ginny completed an MA in English and creative writing and poetry from San Francisco State in 1978, and then traveled to Ireland, where she spent a summer writing and studying Gaelic. In Portland in later years, she became involved in the local literary community and gave poetry readings and occasional workshops. She also completed and published several poetry collections, including Rivers in the Left Quadrant, Anima Speaking, and Civilization of the Heart. Supported by the insight of a compassionate director and mentor, Ginny was employed for a number of years as a secretary in the Oregon Health Division. His accidental death forced her to deal with management less understanding and with the loss of her job as well as the opportunity to be meaningfully employed for the rest of her life. She volunteered with Oregon Consumers Network, the World Federation for Mental Health, Oregon Advocacy Center, and Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Program, and received an outstanding service award from the Mental Health Association of Oregon. She maintained a connection to Reed, and donated a bookplate collection done by her aunt, artist Donna Davis. She had one daughter and one sister and lived alone. Says Caroline Miller ’59, MAT ’65: “She was a published poet with a keen eye for life’s injustices. Having once been homeless, Virginia had a soft spot for the downtrodden. More than once, she opened her home to those desperate for shelter. Beyond that, she collected art to the extent that money and paying in installments made it possible. She harmed no one and helped as many as she could. She struggled with her inner demons every moment of her life, and I admired her for the grace with which she carried her burden. She was a brilliant woman, a poet with a tender heart, but so troubled with mental illness that her life was shattered.”

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2014

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