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Mary Davey, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Visionary, Dies

Board president was a driving force behind saving public lands and social justice.

Mary Davey, whose contagious enthusiasm for saving the Peninsula's natural beauty for future generations, died Oct. 2 of heart complications at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City. She was 80.

Davey was president of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's board of directors and one of the driving forces behind its creation in 1972. She represented Los Altos Hills, portions of Los Altos, Stanford, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and unincorporated Santa Cruz County. She was first elected in 1994.

"Enthusiasm was the key strength that she would use with people," said Cynthia D'Agosta, executive director of the Committee for Green Foothills.

"It made you want to be with her and work on her issues."

An Ohio farm girl and graduate of Smith College, Davey dove headlong into  preserving the beauty of Northern California in the 1961 during what she told D'agosta were the "halcyon days" of environmental awakening.

In the early 1970s, as environmentalism was reaching broad consciousness, Davey had already helped lay the groundwork for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. She helped to found the Commitee for Green Foothills in 1962 with writer Wallace Stegner and 12 interested residents in the Los Altos Hills home of Ruth Spangenburg.

The longtime community leader and activist had been deeply involved in several other  organizations focused on the environment, including the Peninsula Conservation Center Trust, the Sempervirens Fund and the Hidden Villa Trust. As president of the Hidden Villa Trust, she signed the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's easement for protection of the trust's 1,600 acres and facilities.

"She was such a strong and powerful advocate, so it's a sad loss to all of us who work in the field of environmental and social justice," said Chris Overington, executive director of the Hidden Villa Trust. Davey had just attended Hidden Villa's benefit on Sept. 25, and "Mary was her wonderful, energetic, ebullient self, in the center of 12 conversations at once."

Affordable housing and women's health issues were two other top issues with Davey. She served on the Los Altos Town Council from 1966 to 1973, and was on the board of the Mid-Peninsula Citizens for Fair Housing and the Silicon Valley United Way. She was recalled from the Town Council, many observed, because of her advocacy for affordable housing in Los Altos Hills.

How she treated people, whether to inspire them work on a cause or to give thanks for what they did, was characteristic. 

"Mary was a great inspiration to everyone at the district who she unfailingly referred to as the 'world's greatest staff,'" said Steve Abbors, the open space district's general manager. When she walked into a room, the warmth pervaded. "Come, all you wonderful people," was a familiar greeting when gathering people, D'Agosto recalled.  

Her numerous projects over five decades meant that she had been recognized in by several organizations. It includes the Humanitarian Award from Hidden Villa, Woman of Achievement Award from the Santa Clara Commission on the Status of Women and the Environmental Service Award from the Committee for Green Foothills. Before she moved to California, she had been active in Republican Party and had worked on issues involving the Patasco and Potomac Watershed near Chesapeake Bay, and on the Human Relations Commission in Howard County Maryland.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers or cards, donations be sent to two of the many organizations that Davey actively served: The Committee for Green Foothills and Hidden Villa.

Memorial services are pending.

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