Deborah Davis, longtime WYPR employee, dies at 61

Deborah Davis, a longtime WYPR employee who had a passion for equality, theatre and music, died Dec. 23. She was 61.
Deborah Davis, a longtime WYPR employee who had a passion for equality, theatre and music, died Dec. 23. She was 61. (Family handout / Baltimore Sun)

Deborah Davis, a longtime employee of WYPR public radio station with a passion for theatre, music and equality, died on Dec. 23, at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson after battling cancer. She was 61.

Ms. Davis was born in Baltimore and grew up in Towson. She graduated in 1972 from Towson High School, where her family said she developed a passion for music and theatre. She worked as a volunteer at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, and then joined the staff as an usher and eventually went on to work in the subscription office, her family said.


She began her career in public radio when she co-founded a volunteer group that coordinated meetings for WJHU, a station that was run by the Johns Hopkins University.

She eventually joined the staff as a membership coordinator, and continued working there through the station's transition to becoming WYPR after it was sold in 2002. She was WYPR's membership and e-marketing specialist at the time of her death.


According to her sister, when Ms. Davis entered the public radio business she found her calling. Her family recalled that even on vacation, she would engage people about her passion for public radio.

"Every person who came into her life was asked the same question, what is your favorite radio station?" recalled Sharon Davis. "Anyone whose answer wasn't WYPR was soon to learn about her beloved radio station and public radio."

Tony Brandon, president and general manager of WYPR, called Ms. Davis a "kind and gentle soul who fully committed her life to public radio."

"She was inspiring, always with a new idea to connect WYPR to the communities we serve and the members who love and support the station," Mr. Brandon said. "She left us too soon and she will be missed by all of us."


Ms. Davis was active in volunteer work to promote equal rights dating back to the 1980s, when she served as a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood and other women's reproductive health clinics. She also advocated for pay equity, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and for marriage equality in the LGBT community.

Her sister said that her advocacy reflected a life motto to speak up for others, and treat everyone equally, and with respect.

"She treated the homeless person on the street the same way she treated a CEO of a business," her sister said. "And she believed that if you didn't stand up for those who needed assistance, who would?"

Ms. Davis made headlines for her activism. In 1994, as vice president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Organization for Women, she led a rally in support of a secretary who alleged she was sexually harassed by a former Baltimore County executive.

In an interview with The Sun then, Ms. Davis said the rally was to send a message to sexual harassment victims that they will be supported if they speak up.

She said the rally also sent a message to those they speak out against: "Keep your chocolates and flowers. Give us a safe working environment."

Ms. Davis enjoyed spending time with family and friends. As a child, she enjoyed swimming in Sleepy Creek near the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and often reminisced about spending time in an old cottage where her family would gather for holidays and the summer.

As an adult, her family said, among her happiest times were spent with family and friends seeing Broadway shows in New York City.

"She loved the differences of people from all over the world," her sister said. "New York is where the whole world came together."

She also enjoyed movies and live theater in Baltimore, and was a regular at Cinema Sundays, Everyman Theatre and Center Stage. Her all-time favorite Broadway show was "Godspell," her family said, and she loved music by Cris Williamson, Holly Near, James Taylor, and the song "Everything Possible" by The Flirtations.

Ms. Davis particularly loved to share her love of theater with her nieces and nephews.

According to her sister, Ms. Davis "relished being an aunt," and ensured that her eight nieces and nephews knew "how loved and special they were, exactly as they each are." She also passed on to them her passion for justice, peace and equal rights.

"They were the next generation she could mentor to create the change needed in this world," Sharon Davis said.

Ms. Davis didn't have children, but had two dogs and was the caretaker of several animals. She often rescued animals, keeping them or finding them a home, and most recently took in a cat.

A public celebration of Ms. Davis' life will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 23 at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1710 Dulaney Valley Road, Lutherville.

Ms. Davis was preceded in death by her parents, Raymond Earl Davis and Colleen Mae Spurrier. She is survived by her companion, Stephen Main; her sister, Sharon Davis of Towson; her brothers Raymond Davis of Norfolk, Va., and Jeff Davis of Towson; eight nieces and nephews, and many cousins.

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