Seeds of Peace is saddened by the passing of Kathryn W. Davis at age 106. Mrs. Davis was an inspiration to the entire Seeds of Peace family; we are honored to have known her and to have been a part of her commitment to peace-building and her vision for a better world.
“Mrs. Davis has deeply impacted our organization and we will be forever grateful for her leadership and vision,” said Seeds of Peace Executive Director Leslie Lewin.
“Seeds who had the privilege of meeting her will remember her warm personality, her strong belief in the importance of their work, and her recognition of their courage as peacemakers.”
Mrs. Davis was an active supporter of Seeds of Peace programs and was serving on the Seeds of Peace Advisory Board at the time of her passing.
Her interest in international engagement dated back to 1929 and her first of more than 30 trips to Russia. To celebrate her 100th birthday, she launched Davis Projects for Peace, which funds 100 initiatives around the world to advance peace.
Kathryn W. Davis, 1907-2013
NEW YORK | Dr. Kathryn W. Davis, author, journalist, philanthropist and scholar, died peacefully at home at the age of 106 surrounded by her family and devoted caregivers. She was a resident of Hobe Sound, Florida; Tarrytown, New York; and Northeast Harbor, Maine.
Having skied into her 80s, played tennis into her 90s and kayaked, swum, painted, traveled and taken on all comers at croquet until this year, Mrs. Davis remained a wonder and inspiration to those around her. Recently asked by one of her great-grandchildren to name her favorite day, she instantly replied, “Tomorrow.”
Born in Philadelphia on February 25, 1907, Mrs. Davis was educated at The Madeira School in Washington, D.C. She received a B.A. from Wellesley College, an M.A. in international relations from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. She also held honorary doctorates from Columbia University, Wheaton College and Middlebury College.
In 1934, her doctoral dissertation, The Soviets in Geneva, was published and became a best seller in Europe when her controversial prediction that the Soviet Union would join the League of Nations proved both timely and correct. She went on to author numerous articles on foreign affairs in publications ranging from Readers Digest to The United States in World Affairs published annually by the Council on Foreign Relations. In addition to her articles, she was a frequent and engaging lecturer to educational and civic groups in the United States, India, Russia, China, and Switzerland.
Although she wrote and lectured about her travels throughout the world, Russia and the Soviet Union remained her lifelong passion. In 1996, this passion was memorialized when Harvard’s Russian Research Center was renamed in honor of her and her late husband, the legendary investor, diplomat and philanthropist Shelby Cullom Davis.
Mrs. Davis first visited Russia in 1929, traveling through the Caucasus Mountains on horseback with famed anthropologist Leslie White. This adventure included a run-in with bandits who stole the group’s food and horses.
“We ate wild berries for breakfast and spit-roasted mountain goat for dinner,” she told The Moscow Times in 2002, “and I couldn’t have been happier.” During her lifetime she returned to Russia more than 30 times, deepening her passion for its people, history and culture and developing friendships that included former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who was her dinner partner at her 95th birthday party.
A shared interest in world affairs first drew her to her husband. They met on a train headed for Geneva in 1930 and discovered they had both recently traveled in Russia, though Mr. Davis’ journey to Moscow was the more conventional of the two trips. After returning to New York and completing masters’ degrees at Columbia University, they were married on January 4, 1932. They would return to Switzerland, first to complete their doctorates in 1934, again from 1969 to 1975 when Mr. Davis served as U.S. ambassador in Bern and then every winter thereafter until his death in 1994. Throughout 60 years of marriage, they traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia, often pairing his interest in global investment opportunities with her interest in international affairs.
After the death of Ambassador Davis, Mrs. Davis dedicated herself to philanthropy, initially focusing her efforts on education and international affairs and later adding medical research. In particular, she was devoted to her alma mater Wellesley College where she served as a trustee for 18 years, created the Davis Museum and Cultural Center and had planned on attending her 85th reunion next month.
Other institutions named in honor of Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis include: the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University; the Kathryn W. and Shelby Cullom ’30 International Center at Princeton University; the Kathryn Wasserman Davis School of Russian at Middlebury College; professorships at Princeton, Columbia and Trinity College; the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation; libraries at Bradley University and the Tobin College of Business at St. John’s University; the Kathryn W. Davis Center for International & Regional Studies at College of the Atlantic; and the Kathryn W. Davis Student Center at the United World College-USA.
In 1998, at the age of 91, she took up kayaking, making regular excursions on the Hudson River and along the coast and on the lakes of Maine. As a result of these experiences, she became a significant supporter of environmental organizations including Scenic Hudson, Friends of Acadia, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Mrs. Davis, at the age of 94, turned her philanthropic mission to a vision for world peace. For her efforts in this area, she was presented with two major awards: the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service and the EastWest Institute’s Peace and Conflict Prevention Award conferred in Potsdam, Germany. For her 100th birthday in 2007, she created Davis Projects for Peace, a visionary program that funds 100 student summer projects each year aimed at increasing global understanding and throughout the remainder of her life urged every student she met “to prepare for peace, not war.”
For her last birthday, Mrs. Davis was serenaded by renowned violinists Joshua Bell and Misha Simonyan whom she had supported as teenage members of the American Soviet Youth Orchestra. She called the evening “one of the highlights of my life.”
She is survived by her daughter Diana Davis Spencer of Washington, D.C; her son Shelby M.C. Davis of Jackson, Wyoming; and eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.