Jan. 18, 2005
By Susan Green
First Lady Deborah McDavis is enthusiastic about her role as one of the university's chief ambassadors. And she's quick to tell you that she loves this place.
"I love being involved with the lives of students on this campus," she says. "To talk with them about some of the issues I can help with, particularly about the responsibilities they have to themselves, their studies, the campus and to the Athens community is one of the highlights of my role as First Lady. My interest in them stems, in part, from my long career in teaching college composition and, of course, from being a mother."
Although McDavis has been an English teacher for more than 30 years, she doesn't feel she's given up her career to pursue her new role, but rather she's transitioning to another phase of her profession.
"I've been involved with literacy for the past 33 years," McDavis says. "It's rewarding to continue my educational pursuits by becoming involved with programs in Athens that will encourage both youths and adults to take a vested interest in furthering their dreams, aspirations and goals through more formal learning."
Taking control of your life is an important issue for McDavis. She urges students to not only take their academic and career goals seriously, but encourages them to contribute to the quality of life in the Athens community.
During Athens' annual Halloween Street Party, she and President Roderick McDavis, along with concerned faculty and staff, strolled along Court Street and through neighborhoods observing and enjoying the festivities while visiting with students. "I think it's a good idea to embrace rather than denounce the party," she says. "And although it's not an official Ohio University event, it is necessary for the administration to stress the importance of responsible behavior to those students who choose to participate in the party. The president and I love and are proud of our students, and we want them to be safe and secure as well as to be good citizens and role models in their adopted community."
The first lady's interest in the community extends beyond her personal involvement to welcoming community members into the McDavis home. She and Dr. McDavis plan to host community as well as campus gatherings in their newly redecorated house. "We want the president's residence to be a place that welcomes student groups and campus and community-wide organizations to make them all feel part of the Ohio University family," she says.
Music is McDavis' "first love and my passion." And she's also considering hosting a series of musical evenings in the residence.
Mrs. McDavis grew up in a household where she and her five brothers were encouraged to play a musical instrument. Her grandmother was wardrobe mistress to blues legends Bessie and Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters. And McDavis herself has been singing since she was five years old and playing piano since age nine. By age 14, she was performing for various local Veteran's Administration hospitals and charitable organizations, and she sang in nightclubs as lead singer of the Chantes, a group of six Miami Valley Conservatory of Music students in Dayton, Ohio, where she studied music.
"We sang musicals, classics and big band tunes, but mostly enjoyed performing 60's pop tunes from the Temptations and the Supremes," McDavis says. "We traveled around the region and were once the opening act for Mary Wells when she performed in Muncie, Ind." Wells, the Queen of Motown, was best known for her 1964 hit, "My Guy."
She abandoned thoughts of pursuing a career in music while a sophomore in high school when she met her husband; singing in smoky nightclubs wasn't a good prospective career for a wife and mother. That's when she decided to become an English teacher.
McDavis smiles as she talks about her renewed interest in music and her commitment to the campus and the Athens community, "It's a full-time job. It's ongoing; it doesn't let up. But I love it."
Susan Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.