Well-known Columbia humanitarian Judy Davis dies

Judy Davis
Judy Davis

Well-known Midlands community activist and corporate executive Judy Davis was a mentor to many and encouraged others to chase their ambitions and make the community better. She died Thursday after an illness.

“She felt that it was her responsibility to give back and help lift up others, both personally and professionally,” said JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of the Central Carolina Community Foundation and Davis’ friend of about eight years. “She believed strongly in the tenet of doing the right thing and that even though she might only be one person, that she could make a difference.”

Davis served as executive vice president and chief legal officer for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, where she worked for more than 20 years. She also served on the boards of numerous community organizations, including the S.C. Governors School of Science and Mathematics Foundation, EngenuitySC, SC Launch, United Way of the Midlands, Columbia College, Palmetto Conservation Foundation and the Central Carolina Community Foundation.

“She was an optimist. She believed in this town and in the potential of Columbia,” said Neil McLean, former executive director of EngenuitySC and a friend of Davis for more than a decade. “It’s easier to be negative, and she never was.”

Davis was a role model, especially to women, said McLean, who nudged his own college freshman daughter to seek out Davis as a mentor.

Davis once gave Sheryl Sandberg’s book encouraging women to lead, “Lean In,” to dozens of her female coworkers, said Patti Embry-Tautenhan, who worked with Davis as chief spokesperson for BlueCross.

“She was very generous and wanted everybody, but women in particular, to do well and to find their voice,” Embry-Tautenhan said.

“She also felt that ... if people came together to work for the greater good, we could accomplish incredible things,” Turnquist said.

In 2006, Davis led the United Way’s $9.5 million fundraising campaign in the Midlands.

Davis was honored for her philanthropy and community service and leadership in 2014 as the United Way of the Midlands’ Humanitarian of the Year.

“There are so many rewards to giving in the community,” Davis said at the time, “but for me it is the opportunity to meet and work with neighbors and friends, all sharing a passion for making our community better.”

She was the recipient of numerous other community awards, including the 2012 National Alliance on Mental Illness Award, 2011 Insurance Networking News Award and 2011 EngenuitySC Vision Award.

Friends said Davis leaves behind her husband, Jerry, their two dogs, a brother and her parents.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.