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Virginia Spencer Davis

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Virginia Spencer Davis Obituary
Virginia Spencer Davis 1926 - 2013 Virginia (Ginny) Spencer Davis of San Rafael passed away peacefully in her home, with family by her side, on August 15, 2013 at the age of 86. In her final years, she lived with dignity and grace despite a struggle with Alzheimer's Disease. Ginny is survived by her four daughters, Alison, Martha, and Laurie Davis, and Robbie Smidebush; her son-in-law Michael Smidebush and two grandchildren, Matthew and Anna Smidebush. Ginny was the last surviving member of her birth family of five brothers, Tom, John, Doug, Bill and Malcolm (Jigs) Spencer, and her sister, Barbara (Bunny) Smith. Ginny was born on November 4, 1926 in Woodland, CA and raised on her family's ranch in Tehama County, CA. The ranch produced alfalfa and a variety of crops. Her father, Allan Thomas Spencer, also raised sheep. He was recognized as Livestock Man of the Year in 1949 for developing a new breed of sheep called Romeldale, whose wool is still known for its particularly fine texture. Her grandfather, John D. McGilvray, constructed many of California's civic buildings, including San Francisco's City Hall, the U.S. Mint, Stanford University's Outer Quad and Memorial Church, and the appellate courts in Sacramento. Ginny graduated from Red Bluff High School in 1944, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History, with a minor in Art, from Stanford University in 1948. She was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society for outstanding academic achievement. Soon after college, Ginny met and married the love of her life, the late Richard (Dick) Mercer Davis. While the girls were growing up, Ginny was involved in many community activities, which included Camp Fire Girls, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and numerous volunteer and art projects. Ginny loved handcrafts, and became quite adept at quilting, weaving, and needlepoint. Her favorite medium was "found art," where a pile of rusted bolts would become a sculpture or a dead Manzanita branch would become an ever-shifting display of her latest collection of moss, pinecones, or flowers. Always devoted to promoting justice and fairness, particularly for the most vulnerable, Ginny was a passionate advocate for prisoner rights in Marin County. She was appointed to the Marin County Corrections Commission in 1973 (later given a new charge as the Adult Criminal Justice Commission). She served as vice chairman for two years, and chairman for two years, and retired from the Commission in 1983. In 1986, she joined Marin Advocates for Justice, and with a small but hard-working group of activists, successfully stopped the unnecessary construction of a large, expensive county jail and the expansion of San Quentin. After moving to Nicasio with her husband in the late 1970s, Ginny immersed herself in West Marin community activities. She served on the Nicasio Design Review Board and Nicasio Land Owners' Association, and participated in the Environmental Forum Class IX, which included an internship project for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) to record histories of West Marin ranchers. Inspired by the ranchers' stories and the challenges of protecting West Marin agriculture, Ginny partnered with West Marin rancher and close friend Ellen Straus, environmental educator and preservationist Phyllis Faber, photographer Joan Rosen, and author John Hart to create "Farming on the Edge," published by University of California Press in 1990. With her husband Dick, who served on MALT's Board of Directors for several years, Ginny remained deeply involved for decades in supporting MALT and protecting California's working agricultural lands. In 1996, Ginny published another book, this time for the Mono Lake Committee. "Storm Over Mono" (written by John Hart) chronicles the surprising success of a small group of dedicated environmentalists in saving one of the most unusual and beautiful salt-water ecosystems in the world. The book is slated for updating and reprinting by the Mono Lake Committee. Ginny and Dick shared many passions, particularly vacations at their rustic cabin in Lassen County, and horse- and mule-pack trips into the Sierra Nevada high country in search of Gold Rush emigrant wagon artifacts. Time up in the mountains was always the highlight of the year's activities, often involving the entire family and numerous friends. There are many wonderful memories of meals cooked on a wood-burning stove, hiking in the wilderness, late-night canoeing to take in the stars, days out on the trail riding horses, and brisk dips in lakes filled with snow-melt water. Ginny lived an extraordinary life with loving family and devoted friends. She instilled in her daughters an appreciation for human diversity and needs, the importance of kindness and generosity, a love for California's environment and history, and the drive to take action to make things better. A celebration of her life will be held Sunday, November 10, 2013, 11:00AM - 3:00PM, at the Marin Art & Garden Center. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Ginny's honor to one of her favorite nonprofit organizations: Marin Agricultural Land Trust (www.malt.org/donate), the Mono Lake Committee (http://longlive.monolake.org/site/PageServer?pagename=members_ijoin), or Mountain Meadows Conservancy (http://mtmeadows.org/contact.aspx).
Published in Marin Independent Journal from Sept. 22 to Sept. 28, 2013
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