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Roland Chenoweth Davis

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Roland Chenoweth Davis January 5, 1911 - September 4, 2009 Roland Chenoweth Davis died peacefully on September 4 at his home in Palo Alto after a long illness. Roland was four months shy of his 99th birthday and one of the last survivors of a group of extraordinarily talented labor union attorneys who emerged during the Great Depression. Roland Davis was born in San Diego, lived during his pre-school years in Descanso, began attending grade school in Glendale, moved shortly thereafter to Lakeside, San Diego County, and then to National City where his father had become Superintendent of Schools. Later, the family moved to San Bernardino and then to San Francisco where Roland graduated from Lowell High School in 1928. Falling in love with Stanford University as he and his family drove down Palm Drive in the Spring of 1927, Roland entered Stanford in the Fall of 1928. In 1929, Roland joined the Kappa Alpha fraternity where many of his high school friends were members. Fascinated with golf during his high school years, Roland joined the Stanford Golf team. Years later, he fondly remembered the outstanding golf team he was on during his years at Stanford. That team included Lawson Little, an outstanding amateur and later a golf touring professional, and Walker Cup team member Charlie Seaver, the father of New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver. Roland entered Stanford Law School in 1934. While attending Stanford Law School, Roland met his future wife, Harriet Allen, a third generation Palo Altan and descendant of California pioneers, while attending a party at his old fraternity. As Roland describes their elopement in "A Family History" he wrote in the mid-1990's, he and Harriet drove to Reno in a Model A Ford convertible one moonlit night in October 1934. That Model A Ford convertible had been a gift from Roland's grandfather, famed Northwestern University English Professor George Oliver Curme. After graduating from law school and passing the California Bar in December 1937, Roland landed a job with the Pacific Coast Labor Bureau in San Francisco in the Spring of 1938. His salary was $125 per month. These were exciting and challenging years in the labor movement in San Francisco. Roland fondly remembered negotiating a then novel severance pay agreement for the ferry boatmen whose jobs were to go out of existence upon the completion of the San Francisco-Oakland bay bridge. Roland, Harriet and their young family moved to Washington DC in late 1942 and early 1943 where Roland worked in the War Shipping Administration. Returning to Palo Alto later in 1943, Roland rejoined his former employer at the Pacific Coast Labor Bureau who desperately needed Roland's legal assistance during the challenging times created by the war. In 1946, Roland formed his own law firm representing workers in the retail grocery, drug, candy, bakery, furniture and department store, hotel and restaurant industries. Working with these and other labor organizations including the San Francisco Labor Council, Roland met and worked with future Mayor and Congressman Jack Shelley, then District Attorney Pat Brown, Retail Clerks leader Claude Jinkerson and later one of Jinkerson's successors, Joe Sharpe. Roland took great pride in his representation of the newly formed Department Store Employees Local 1100, and the early tutoring of Walter Johnson, who went on to labor fame as the leader of the San Francisco Labor Council. The San Francisco law firm Roland founded in 1946 continues to carry Roland's name under the banner Davis, Cowell and Bowe. In 1985, Roland left the firm he founded to join his son Alan at the San Francisco Davis and Reno law firm. Fifteen years later, at the age of 91, Roland retired from the practice of law. Law was just one of Roland's many endeavors. In the mid-1940's Roland was an early and active participant at the Palo Alto Community Theater. Decades later Roland, then an active member of the Palo Alto Historical Society, gave a seminar to the Society's members on those exciting early years at the Community Theater. Roland was active in Democratic politics from an early age and served as Chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee. In 1948, Roland traveled with the California delegation to Philadelphia in 1948, serving as its parliamentarian at the Democratic national convention. Roland remained active in Democratic politics for many years. In the mid-1950's, Roland also served as Chair of both the San Francisco Commonwealth's Labor Relations Committee and the San Francisco Bar Association's Labor Law Committee. Roland never lost of his love for the game of golf. In the early 1950's, Roland joined the Los Altos Golf and Country Club. Along with golf, Roland became a leader in the development of that Club's competitive swimming program and the establishment of the Peninsula Interclub Swimming League. Roland was rewarded for his dedicated work at the Los Altos Golf and Country Club with election to its Presidency in 1966. Roland's last game of golf was at the age of 90 on the day the Los Altos Golf and Country Club golf course closed for renovations in 2001. Roland survived his wife Harriet, who died in October 2008. They had been married for 74 years. Roland is survived by his daughters Carolyn MacKinnon and Mary Anne Ifft, both of Sunnyvale, by his son Alan, of Palo Alto, and by his son Roland Francis Davis, of Mobile, Alabama. Roland is also survived by eight grandchildren and fifteen great-grandchildren. The family will hold a private memorial at a date to be determined. Contributions to the Palo Alto Historical Association would be appreciated.
Published in San Jose Mercury News on Sept. 9, 2009
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