John Davies, a prominent attorney, civic leader, former University of California regent and UCSD Foundation trustee died on May 20 in San Diego, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 76.
The successful attorney and businessman dedicated countless hours and substantial effort to civic matters, helping to ensure educational excellence throughout California, enhance San Diego and its downtown region, and support the state judicial system as an advisor to two California governors on judicial appointments.
“John Davies was a trusted adviser whose insight and support proved invaluable for the campus and UC system as whole,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. “I speak for the entire campus community in expressing our deep sadness at the loss of such an esteemed leader, colleague and friend. His impact on California’s educational system is immeasurable.”
Davies and his wife Ann were recently awarded with the Chancellor’s Medal, one of the university’s highest honors given for exceptional service in support of UC San Diego’s mission. Davies served as a trustee of the UC San Diego Foundation for a span of nearly two decades. At the time of his death, Davies was serving as vice-chair of the foundation and a member of the foundation’s investments committee.
“John was truly a valued and adored member on the UC San Diego Foundation Board,” said Steve Relyea, UC San Diego Foundation president and vice chancellor of External and Business Affairs. “His leadership and thoughtful approach to tough challenges had such a positive impact on the university, the San Diego region and California. We will forever be grateful for his extraordinary dedication and vision.”
Spanning several decades, Davies was a strong supporter of UCSD, making philanthropic gifts to areas of campus ranging from student scholarships and fellowships to the UCSD Libraries and Health Sciences. A passionate book collector, Davies, most recently helped the UC San Diego Mandeville Special Collections Library, to acquire the Ephraim Morse papers — letters, records, photos and memorabilia documenting San Diego’s early years. He also supported UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, and was a key contributor to the Mark Twain Papers and the long-awaited autobiography of Mark Twain, published recently by the University of California Press.
Davies’ service to the University of California began when he was appointed to the Board of Regents by Governor Pete Wilson in 1992; his term on the board ran until 2004. He served as chair of the UC Regents from 1998 to 2000. Under his leadership, resources were allocated to establish UC Merced, as well as to attract a diverse student population after the University of California ended race-blind admissions.
“John Davies was an outstanding regent of the University of California — and a superb chair of the regents — through an extremely difficult period in the institution’s history,” said Richard Atkinson, UC president emeritus and former UC San Diego chancellor. “I count John as a personal friend and one who has been critical to the well-being of the University of California system and UC San Diego. Everyone who knew John held him in the highest esteem.”
A San Diego native, Davies was born in Chula Vista on June 28, 1934, and attended Chula Vista High School. He left San Diego to attend the University of Southern California. Davies then entered the U.S. Navy for three years, before earning his law degree at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in 1962.
After law school, Davies returned to his hometown as partner in the law firm of Davies and Burch, a firm established by his father, Lowell, focusing on real estate and probate law. Over the years, Davies honed these areas of expertise while employed with various law firms. Most recently, he served in an of counsel role in the San Diego office of Allen, Matkins, Leck, Gamble, Mallory and Natsis.
When Pete Wilson became mayor of San Diego in 1973, he tapped Davies, who he became friends with in law school, to spearhead a redevelopment initiative in downtown San Diego. Davies served as member and chairman of the City of San Diego Planning Commission and director and president of the Centre City Development Corporation for many years. His leadership to improve the quality of life in San Diego was recognized in February 2011, when the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce awarded Davies with the prestigious “Spirit of San Diego Award.”
Davies served as judicial appointments secretary to Governor Wilson from 1995 to 1999; before that as chairman of Senator Pete Wilson’s California Judicial Qualification Committee from 1983 to 1990 and as chairman of Senator John Seymour’s California Judicial Qualification Committee from 1991 to 1992. In total, Davies influenced the appointment of more than 600 state judges and 35 federal appointees.
In 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him judicial advisor, a position he served through 2007, working with the governor and his staff to establish the judicial appointment process and screen judicial candidates. Davies remained active in the community until his death. In addition to the UC San Diego Foundation board, Davies served on the boards of Rady Children’s Hospital of San Diego and H.G. Fenton Company. Over the years, Davies also served as director of several companies, including Winfield Industries, Fisher Scientific Group, IMED Corporation and IVAC Corporation.
Months before his death, Davies was quoted by the San Diego Union-Tribune as saying: “The greatest part of the long list of public service jobs I’ve done was … they were all interesting. The payback is that I have friends everywhere. That’s my treasure.”
Davies is survived by his wife, Ann, and four children: Christopher Davies, Thompson Davies, Michael Davies and Suzanne Davies Farr.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in his memory be made to the “John Davies Memorial Fund” at UC San Diego or Rady Children’s Hospital of San Diego. For gifts to the John Davies Memorial Fund, please make checks payable to the UC San Diego Foundation (with “John Davies Memorial Fund” in the memo) and send them to UC San Diego Gift Processing at 9500 Gilman Drive, #0940, La Jolla, CA 92093-0940. Donations for the UC San Diego fund also can be made online at
; please search “John Davies Memorial Fund” on the Gifts Designation webpage.
A celebration of life will be held for at 4 p.m. on June 3 at the Town and Country Resort Hotel in Mission Valley, 500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego.