James Willard Davis, lawyer, dies

He had worked with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

  • James Willard Davis
James Willard Davis
February 22, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

James Willard Davis, a retired Carroll County lawyer who had worked with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in the 1960s, died Friday of heart failure at his Westminster home.

He was 83.

Mr. Davis, whose father was superintendent of schools for Talbot County and whose mother was a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Easton.

After graduating from Loyola High School when he was 16, Mr. Davis attended Loyola College for two years before entering the Jesuit order in 1944.

He took his solemn vows in 1947 and had two years of monastic life. Then he earned a degree in philosophy from Woodstock College. He left the order amicably, family members said, and entered the Army in 1952.

After serving for three years as a cryptologist-analyst in Korea, he left the Army in 1955 and entered Georgetown University Law School.

He graduated in 1958 and clerked at Covington & Burling in Washington, where he was hired as an associate attorney. In 1960, he took a leave of absence to go to work for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as an assistant special attorney.

Mr. Davis' work required him to travel incognito as an inspector in Mississippi and Alabama, family members said, and brought him into a working relationship with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., NAACP attorney Medgar Evers and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

Mr. Davis returned to Maryland in 1963 and established a law practice on Main Street in Westminster. In 1985, he established the firm of Davis, Murphy and Stone, from which he retired in 1999.

Active in Democratic politics in Carroll County, Mr. Davis took a 16-week leave from his law practice in order to study Spanish, and in 2002, moved to the Yucatan for a year to further his language skills.

When he returned to Carroll County, he developed a ministry to the Mexican workers for whom he was an ombudsman. He arranged for local doctors and attorneys and acted as a translator for the workers. With the increased number of immigrants, he sought the help of other Spanish-speaking volunteers.

From 2005 until 2010, when he moved back to Westminster, Mr. Davis lived at the Charlestown retirement community.

He enjoyed traveling and attending the opera.

His 30-year marriage to the former Grace Davis Mercer ended in divorce in 2003. The couple remarried last year.

He was a communicant of St. John Roman Catholic Church, where he had founded Resurrection Farm, a refuge and prayer community.

A memorial service will be offered at noon Saturday at his church, 43 Monroe St.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Davis is survived by a son, James W. Davis III of Rising Sun; two daughters, Marian E. Davis and Elise P. Davis, both of Westminster; and four grandchildren.


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