A View from Glen Hill: In memory of Don Davidson
It was a great privilege to have been a friend of Don Q. Davidson. Don passed away in late December at 91, and the Wilton community gathered in force several weeks ago for a beautiful memorial service which included St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church’s 30-member choir performing a half-hour pre-service concert of Don’s favorite sacred pieces from his many years of service in that choir. We were all recipients of Don’s sunbeam-radiant smiles and his many thoughtful actions.
In addition to being St. Matthew’s chief lay officer two decades ago, Don served on every parish music-related committee for more than a quarter-century, including chairing the Arts at St. Matthew’s program that has brought to Wilton artists of national, and even international, renown as well as rising young stars. With his grandsons Chris and the late Frank Davidson, Don was also a master woodworker. St. Matthew’s pulpit lectern with its easy mobility and its special retractable step for young scripture readers, its elegant credence table with beautifully tapering legs, and the very large and tall yet easily movable Wilton Presbyterian Church choir cabinet are but a few examples attesting to Davidson brilliance in design and execution with consummate craftsmanship. Many other examples grace our Wilton homes.
Form and function fitting together to create an object of beauty: those are the hallmarks of Davidson workmanship and of Don’s life as well. Likewise, for Don’s beloved wife Barbara, who predeceased him by only two months, making things of beauty was a central part of life, whether designing interior space in homes or making flower arrangements for services that delight the eye and brighten gloriously the space. Don was tremendously supportive of her work, including their magnificent flower gardening together, the fruits of which regularly graced St. Matthew’s altar.
As I came to know Don well, I grew to believe that the elusive Q. initial for his middle name must stand for “quintessential” — meaning the purest essence of a thing. Don was quintessential in many fields, including musicianship: vocally, with precision and a beautifully resonant bass timbre ranging even to the tenor register. The experience of singing next to Don was one of feeling his joy radiating fully and powerfully — joy in performing challenging sacred music with excellence, and joy in being in a choir with those whom he knew and loved deeply and appreciated fully. Quintessential musicianship also on the violin (his instrument of choice in his younger years as a music major and violin virtuoso with a college degree in performance from Northwestern) and the piano. In earlier years, he would sub on the piano at church during staff vacations. We’d gather round his home piano at choir parties and Christmas gatherings, and Don would accompany us for any piece we could name, always closing with his favorite “Autumn Leaves.”
Quintessential also in insightful wisdom and the ability to make tough decisions when that was required in leadership in the publishing world for years as well as in parish leadership, yet always doing so with graciousness and thoughtfulness reflective of that most quintessential of Don’s qualities: caring love for others. It absolutely radiated and was much reflected in his extensive volunteer work for Wilton Kiwanis in all of the good that it does both locally and more widely, as well as for his parish.
Did that caring quality grow from tragic losses, or was it always there? I didn’t know Don or Barbara before the earliest of those loved-ones losses, but I’d have to say that it grew from both. On All Saints Day, when those losses are especially remembered in services, Don would have tears in his eyes for his two children and his grandson. These were unimaginably sad losses, yet they did not make Don bitter, angry or withdrawn — things natural to expect but the absolute antithesis of Don. His was a life of unfailing courage and optimism, and his very nature was goodness, joy, peace, and love: beautiful workmanship in human relationships as well as in woodworking and music.
Don’s many years on earth were filled with music and laughter and the closeness of family surrounded by his deeply loved Barbara and children and grandchildren. Music carried him even in his final days as it beautifully played in his room on his daughter Karen’s Alexa machine, “singing him to heaven” with his priest, family and friends holding hands and praying, gathered round his bed as he quietly died. A fitting passing for one who so richly graced us all.