OIB friend Doug Davidoff, a Downtown resident, lost his mom on Thursday. Denny Davidoff was a former advertising professional who died in Bridgeport. He wrote this moving tribute on his Facebook page.
My mother, Denny Davidoff, died this morning at her home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the age of 85.
She led an astoundingly full life and has a wealth of friends and admirers around the nation and even around the globe. She was a beloved and revered lay leader among Unitarian Universalists in the United States and Canada and was elected twice as the presiding officer of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. At the time of her death, she was senior consultant to Meadville-Lombard Theological School in Chicago, a center for students preparing to become the next generation of UU ministers.
Until cancer slowed her beginning in July, Mom was on the go always. She traveled to Chicago often and spoke in pulpits and meetings of Unitarian Universalists from coast to coast. Her travel schedule was intense.
Before living a full-force life as a religious leader, Mom built a career in advertising in Connecticut and an avocation in Democratic Party politics on the local level in Westport and Fairfield County along the Long Island Sound coast between Bridgeport and New York City.
She joins my father, Jerry Davidoff (1926-2009) in death. She is survived by my brother John Davidoff; her daughter-in-law, Jacki Davidoff; and four grandchildren. Mom has two god-daughters. One of them devoted the past few months to caring for Mom on her journey into death. I will forever be thankful for Penelope’s kindness and the help of another of Mom’s friends, Olivia.
My parents were, together and individually, models of lay leadership in liberal religion during the past 50 years. Through their affiliations inside Unitarian Universalism, they encouraged new models of professional ministry, fostered anti racism inside a denomination that faced its racist history, developed youth into leaders, welcomed people of all sexual orientations, and were on the cusp of the heart of religion in redefining how a rational religion meets with the myriad of mystical, spiritual, and God-centered needs and beliefs of UUs. Mom is among the UU leaders who have restored God talk and worship as an option for individualistic UUs, each on their own path to seeking truth.
My mother was raised as a Jew in Belle Harbor, a neighborhood on the Rockaway Peninsula of Queens, New York. This barrier island separates Jamaica Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. She grew up just yards away from the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. She graduated from Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn after a stint at New York’s High School for the Arts. She went to Vassar College and graduated in 1953. (My dad was also from a Jewish family, but his father was not religious and his mother’s family was affiliated with the Ethical Culture movement.)
In New York City between 1953 and 1957, the forces in Mom’s adult life took shape. She met my father through Democratic politics. She began to work in advertising. She married in 1955 and bore her first son, me, in 1957. In 1959, my folks moved to Westport, Connecticut, where each of their parents already had summer homes. They began their Connecticut law and advertising careers in Bridgeport. Then Dad opened a law office in Westport and Mom joined a Westport ad agency. My brother, John, was born in 1960.
Fired for being an uppity powerful woman in the years of the advertising “Mad Men,” Mom borrowed money from her mother and opened her own agency in Fairfield. During the next 30 years, she developed marketing and counseled a plethora of banks across Connecticut and the Northeast as well as utility companies, retailers, and professional services.
She was a major force in campaigns that returned Democrats to local offices in Westport and adjoining towns more often than the party deserved based on overwhelming GOP registration. She provided advertising services to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Ella T. Grasso, who became the first woman elected as governor of any U.S. state on her own, without the help of or succeeding her husband.
In Westport, feeling not welcomed in the local reform synagogue, my father accepted the advice of clients and tried the young Unitarian Church in Westport. I began there in kindergarten in 1962. Mom joined the church a couple of years later. This entailed a withering split with her parents, who were members of the Westport temple. (Having been schooled in the religious education classrooms of both Temple Israel and the Unitarian Church in Westport, I can say that nothing in my concept of religious beliefs I hold today is at odds with the fundamentals of the Reform Judaism I learned. The practice is different, but not my beliefs.)
For John and me, and for her grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, and her treasured cousins, Mom was a source of love, counsel, sometimes stern advice, generosity, wisdom, and common sense. Her whirlwind of activity sometimes pushed us away, but not too far away, and she always came back. Her love was abundant, and while it will live on, I will miss the mother who generated and supplied it.
I will miss my dinners with her, accompanying her on travels, our family sailing cruises on the coast of New England. I will miss the mother who supported and championed me as well as my children. I will miss being able to visit her, talk politics and religion, and share in our common love and values. She helped me through many difficulties in life, and I am grateful.
Thanks, Mom. I love you.