Nancy Davis, the “Champion of the Eastside,” and Tacoma’s disenfranchised communities in general, passed away quietly at her home on April 26. The lifelong activist, all around friend and force to be reckoned with will be remembered at a celebration of life from 2-4 p.m. on June 3 at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (4851 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma). Members of the public are welcome to attend and share their memories.
“She put her heart and soul into making Tacoma a better place for everyone,” her son Alan Lynch said. “She was just always there. And as a mom, she was always there. She always made us think that we could do anything or be anything.”
Davis touched more people than even they would ever know, either through her time at Metro Parks Tacoma, on Tacoma City Council, or as she championed social justice causes for her beloved Eastside neighborhood. She was a steadfast and loyal friend to the Puyallup Tribe, always there to defend the tribe’s rights especially concerning the fate of Portland Avenue Park. In addition to this, during the last four decades of Nancy’s life her work ranged from advocating for the STAR Center, the Tacoma Police Department substation on the Eastside, the Eastside Community Center, the YWCA and LBGTQ rights.
“We always had gay friends from back in the day when being gay could get you killed,” said her longtime partner Steve Wade. “She was friends with everybody, and she always wanted to help out, no matter who someone was. She just always showed up and was there for the community. She went out of her way to help people – that’s her legacy.” Wade also mentioned the postcards that Davis would receive in the mail from folks thanking her for helping them – and in some cases, saving their lives because of what she did for them.
Here are some of the memories people have about Davis and her impact on Tacoma:
“I have struggled for the last few weeks with the knowledge that my friend Nancy Davis is gone. People did not come any better than Nancy. She was a fierce advocate for her Eastside and at the same time she was a gentle shepherd arranging funding for Metro Parks by the legislature. She knew exactly when to advocate, when to support, when to cajole, when to cry, when to kick you in the behind and when to laugh uproariously. And she always knew how to deeply love her friends, especially her son, Alan, grandson, Alex, and partner, Steve. I will miss each and every single part of her.”
– 27th District Rep. Laurie Jinkins
“My first thought of when I met Nancy is back when (Puyallup tribal historian) Judy Wright and I were working on getting the Portland Avenue Park back. Nancy fought strong and hard for us. She knew that park is one of the original allotments of the tribe and that it was taken from us back in the old days, bought for $1. She made sure I could get into the Metro Parks meetings, introduced me to the proper people and made sure that I could voice my opinion. She said they needed to hear the tribe out. Nancy knew that we value our property – that we wouldn’t turn the park into a fireworks shop or anything else – that it is to be a place for children and adults to go on the Eastside. She never made it about the dollars – some things are bigger than money and she was that kind of person. She made sure that when she had something to say that people heard her. She didn’t beat around the bush. I admire that about her and that she was an honest woman – always told the truth. Nancy was a great individual that had her heart set on caring for the people, especially on the Eastside. She’d always say, ‘Born and raised on the Eastside just like Sylvia.’
– Puyallup Tribal Councilmember Sylvia Miller
“Nancy Davis: a true Eastsider. Nancy and I met at an Eastside gathering about 20 years ago. She would tell me if you say something, and you feel no one has listened, repeat yourself again and again. She helped shape the Neighborhood Council Program. Nancy was always a calm spirit. Never raising her voice once, no matter how angry she felt inside. She was on our Eastside Neighborhood Council and then on the City Council. She never lost touch with the Eastside when she moved on to more important jobs. She rarely missed an Eastside meeting. I am going to miss her running our elections and how she eloquently repeated each sentence three times so people heard her loud and clear. Gramma Nancy became Mom Nancy to Alex and she made sure he was a true gentleman. We gave him a booth at the McKinley Hill Street Fair in August 2017. She came to our Eastside Council meeting in September to tell us how grateful they both were. She never missed a party so she could have Alex cook one of his famous dishes. And he did. We will truly miss our friend Nancy. They don’t make people like her much anymore. There will always be a chair at my table for you, Nancy.”
– Lynnette Scheidt, President Eastside Neighborhood Council and President Dometop Neighborhood Alliance
“Nancy was a special lady! She showed strong commitment to Tacoma and a deep love for its parks and its people. I worked with Nancy as a parks commissioner, and she was our government relations director. Of the many issues we worked on together, the one that is probably the most memorable was the work we did on securing state funding for construction of the STAR Center. We travelled back and forth to Olympia, talking to our legislators about the importance of bringing a quality community center to the South End. I’ll never forgot how well respected she was by the state legislators and staff alike. Nancy had a way of winning you over with her passion and persistence. She had the best candy drawer ever, and I will never forget her tenacity and dedication to this city!”
– Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards
“I first met Nancy Davis when I was practicing law with Columbia Legal Services representing low-income clients and organizations. Some of this work required an understanding of the Eastside and its resources, interests and needs. Nancy stood out. She knew the community. She loved the community. She was attentive to its needs and the needs of all its residents, including low-income families. And she was always generous to share her knowledge and advice with me. Our relationship in this way continued as she joined Metro Parks, and I joined the Tacoma Housing Authority. We helped our respective organizations work together to invest in the Eastside and to do so in compatible ways. She helped THA and Metro Parks realize that they share a common mission to serve Tacoma and to bring investment to its neighborhoods in ways that are compatible and equitable. This shared mission matured particularly with the adjacent developments of New Salishan, by THA, and Swan Creek Park, by Metro Parks. Both of them are urban jewels. Both show Nancy’s fingerprints.”
– Tacoma Housing Authority Executive Director Michael Mirra
“It has been said that in the public service realm, there is the ‘show horse’ and the ‘work horse.’ Nancy Davis was truly, in every sense, the latter as she became the face and voice for the Eastside in the late 1990s. I met Nancy as a leader and strong advocate of the neighborhood council movement when I was elected to the City Council in 1991. From our first moment, I knew she was the genuine article – passionate in her support of community, honest and authentic almost to a fault and quickly known for her follow through. She was all business with little interest in the limelight or celebrity. I was delighted when Nancy accepted, a bit reluctantly, appointment to the City Council after the untimely passing of her friend from the Eastside, Councilmember Dave DeForrest. Many of her supporters and admirers were hopeful that she would run for a full four-year term. But the rough and tumble nature of elective politics was not of interest to Nancy. She continued her exemplary public service career on the staff of the Metropolitan Park District where her values, hard work and passion for the public interest made her a highly respected advocate to all who knew and worked with her. I trusted Nancy to be candid in briefing me on important park issues during my tenure as mayor. I will miss her.
– Tacoma Mayor (former) Bill Baarsma
“Nancy possessed a sincere care and love for community. She was a skilled networker, devoted to the Eastside. She understood politics in Tacoma and maintained personal ties with our community’s decision-makers. In Olympia, doors opened to her because legislators knew her. This meant success in obtaining state funding for many community projects from Stewart Heights, Northwest Trek, STAR Center and so much more. She helped initiate the building of the Eastside Community Center. She was tenacious without being pushy. She understood those who delivered, from those who simply voiced support. She was thus attracted to those who could get things done. On the Eastside, I am told that those seeking to get things done went to Nancy. She went about this business with a selflessness that energized support for the Eastside and Metro Parks. She did not seek acclaim. She was a true community builder.
– 29th District Sen. Steve Conway
A celebration of the life of Nancy Davis is scheduled from 2-4 p.m. on June 3, at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center. Members of the public are welcome to attend and share their memories.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Metro Parks Foundation to establish a scholarship fund in honor of Nancy Davis.