Davis is Citizen of the Year

By Ruth Longoria

Eighty-seven-year-old Islander Aubrey Davis is known for making things happen, using all in his power to create solutions that work for everyone, and taking care of the region as well as his Island family, said Mayor Alan Merkle.

Often referred to as the ``Godfather of Puget Sound transportation,'' and praised by his peers as well as politicians past and present, Davis was named Mercer Island's 2004 Citizen of the Year at the Monday night City Council meeting.

Davis is the 15th honoree to receive the award since the title was first bestowed in 1990.

Previous award recipients have benefited the Island and its neighbors with a range of visionary accomplishments, such as Pam Eakes, 1994 honoree, who started the national Mothers Against Violence in America. Dr. Floyd Short, who created the first firefighter EMT training programs, received the award in 1992. Barbara Swier, was Citizen of the Year in 1990. Swier organized the daffodil planting programs in the Island's business district.

Davis' contributions to the Island and the state of Washington are legendary.

``Aubrey Davis is regional minded but locally focused,'' Merkle said. ``He's tireless, thoughtful and cares deeply about his community. He has probably been the single greatest contributor to transportation planning and implementation as anyone from Mercer Island has ever been.''

Island Deputy City Manager Deb Symmonds agrees. ``There's hardly anybody who doesn't know Aubrey and have something positive to say about all he has done.''

Davis, who didn't know he was receiving the award until Monday night, said he was very pleased, honored and surprised.

``You have to get pleasure out of all this community work or you can't do it well,'' he said. ``I get a lot of pleasure in the Mercer Island community and hopefully I am also productive.''

Davis has been involved in shaping public policy since he was a young man. He started out as an intern at the Federal Works Agency in Washington, D.C., in 1939, during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration.

Davis, now married for more than 60 years, and a father and grandfather, moved to the Island in 1960. He was elected to the City Council in 1968, where he also served as mayor from 1970 to 1973, and continued on the council until 1978.

He was chairman of Seattle's Metro Transit bus system from 1970 to 1977 and served as regional representative for Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams prior to working as campaign director for former U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson in 1980.

After the campaign, Davis spent eight years as the regional administrator for the Urban Mass Transit Administration, which later became the Federal Transit Administration.

In addition to his other duties, Davis was named president and CEO of Group Health in 1988 at the age of 70.

From 1989 to 1995, he was chairman of the Puget Sound Expert Review Panel, which created Sound Transit.

In 1992, Davis was appointed to the state Transportation Commission, where he served until his retirement last fall. His term on the commission ended in 2001, but Davis agreed to continue serving at the request of then-Gov. Gary Locke.

Locke wasn't at the council meeting, but offered congratulatory words to Davis last week through a phone interview with the Reporter.

``I think it's fantastic Aubrey is receiving this award,'' Locke said. ``He's an incredible leader and he's done so much through Group Health; and, for years he was a wonderful leader of the Washington State Transportation Committee as we tried to find funding and ways to keep mass transportation moving.''

Island residents have good reason to appreciate Davis, Locke said.

In 1972, while Davis was mayor of Mercer Island, the state had plans to widen Interstate 90 to14 lanes. Davis is remembered to have blocked that action and told state transportation planners that Islanders ``did not want to see it (I-90), hear it, or smell it.''

When the negotiations were concluded, several years later, the I-90 plans were reduced to eight lanes and concrete lids were placed over the freeway with parks of greenery Islanders sometimes take for granted.

``The people ought to thank him for getting the lids on the I-90 tunnel. That turned out to be so beautiful,'' Locke said. ``Can people imagine what it would be like in Mercer Island without the lids?''

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