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Former Commissioner Ron Davis dies at 75

Thursday, February 4, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Former Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis, who is remembered for his staunch advocacy on environmental issues, died Tuesday at age 75. Davis served on the Commissioners Court from to 1998 to 2016 representing Precinct 1 in eastern Travis County. His son, Ron Davis Jr., confirmed that his father died of a heart attack.

Nelson Linder, president of the NAACP, recalled, “I met Ron Davis when he was working on the East Austin (tank) farms when we had the chemicals and pollution” that poisoned the land and the water from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. “I can tell you he was a very rare person because he was a community person for a long time. He paid his dues, took care of his people and then was elected to office. He earned everything he got …. His life is a perfect example of civic engagement, community support and ultimately political empowerment.”

Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison wrote in a Facebook post, “This is heartbreaking news. Commissioner Ron Davis was a force of nature when it came to advocating for communities in the Eastern Crescent. He forged a career as one of the early champions for environmental justice, and I will always look to his example as the gold standard for tireless service. This year’s celebration of Black History Month would be incomplete without a celebration of this man’s life and his many achievements.”

Alfred Stanley, a political adviser and friend of Davis, told the Austin Monitor he met Davis in 1985 when Davis was seeking the endorsement of the Sierra Club in his run for Austin City Council. Stanley said while the group was not going to endorse Davis’ opponent, it was unlikely to endorse anyone else in the race. Stanley said that changed when “Davis said, ‘I don’t know much about your issues, but I will always listen to you.’ And considering that we felt so unlistened to – other than by (one Council member) – that sounded like a pretty damn good deal and we immediately endorsed him. And we went on to watch him do great things.”

After running for Council, Davis ran for and won the Precinct 1 seat on the Commissioners Court in 1998 when Sam Biscoe resigned to run for Travis County Judge. Davis served until his retirement in 2016.

When Davis retired, he asked Stanley to invite his former professor from Southwest Texas State University to attend the retirement party. At that point, Stanley learned that Davis had taken the professor’s course on environmental justice and knew as much about environmental issues as anyone at the Sierra Club meeting. “And of course he amazed all of us by starting the East Austin Strategy Team, helping to eliminate the tank farms and advocating for removing contaminated soil and other issues.” Davis was always modest, yet he was “one of the great Austin environmental leaders,” Stanley concluded.

Jeff Travillion, who serves as Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 1, said of Davis, “He was a stalwart in the community. He was a descendant of Masontown and the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. He was an advocate for housing, clean water and removing tank farms from the middle of neighborhoods. He worked to improve the quality of life for all people, including people of color. He worked hard to keep Austin Community College in East Austin …. He understood we didn’t have any problems that equity and access to opportunity couldn’t solve. Commissioner Davis believed, like I believe, that talent was equally distributed but opportunity is not. And he dedicated his whole career to making sure the whole community had access to opportunity.”

State Rep. Sheryl Cole, a former Austin Council member, said, “Ron Davis was a tireless hard worker, a true trailblazer and a lifelong advocate. We worked on many issues together while I was on City Council. He will be greatly missed.”

Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett released the following statement: “Ron was a compassionate, collaborative but forceful voice for our neighbors in eastern Travis County. Getting water to Kennedy Ridge, encouraging creation of the ACC Eastview campus, helping Webberville oppose a landfill, demanding redress for a polluting tank farm, naming our courthouse for a higher education integration leader, Ron acted effectively in response to our neighbors’ concerns, especially with regard to environmental degradation. ”

Doggett added, “I particularly recall his important leadership in opposing Tom DeLay’s extreme partisan gerrymandering, which first sliced up Austin in an attempt to deny our community a voice in Congress. As a fourth-generation Austinite and graduate of Huston-Tillotson University, he brought understanding to his calls for justice and opportunity for all. He was my longtime friend and our strong advocate. My condolences to his wife, Annie, and their three children and six grandchildren, as they endure this loss.”

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