Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Celebration of the Life of Judy Davis

This posting is to commemorate the life and activism of Judy Davis who died in June of 2010. After she was buried, a meeting was organized by her family and friends to remember her and pay tribute to her life. I was asked to give a talk and the following are my speaking notes for this sad occasion. Her obituary follows my notes.

(Speaking notes for a meeting at the Westville Legion, Sunday June 27th, 2010, 2-4 pm, to celebrate the life of Judy Davis. About 100 people were in attendance.)

Thanks for inviting me to give a speech about the life of Judy Davis. She died on June 14th at the age of 58, after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer in the fall of 2009. Judy was a close friend and we came to love each other as true friends sometimes do. We had known each other for about 30 years and met shortly after our family moved to Halifax in 1979 from the West Coast. At that time my interests were in stopping the real possibility of uranium mining in Nova Scotia and in combating industrial forestry – its clear cutting, spraying and destruction of wildlife habitat, and this brought me in contact with Judy. She was part of an environmental group in the Tatamagouche area, interested in similar environmental issues

Those of us in this room who knew Judy, if you are like me, use her death not only to cry a lot, but also to reflect and think about what knowing such a person has meant for oneself, as well as what the meaning of Judy’s life was for the wider society. Judy Davis influenced a hell of a lot of people in a very positive way, and her legacy is part of why you are all here today.

As you all know, Judy’s obituary says not only that she died from cancer but, perhaps more importantly from Judy’s perspective, that she died of a “broken heart.” This broken heart, she wrote, was “caused by witnessing the continued destruction of the ecology of the planet through human exploitation, economic greed and war.” So Judy, even in death, continues to organize from the grave. This tells us that, to the end, she never stopped fighting for environmental and social justice. What a way to exit this world!

Joe Hill, a fellow anarchist labour organizer and song writer who Judy admired, when facing a frame-up death by execution in 1915 in the United States, told his followers “Don’t mourn – organize.” So Judy would similarly urge us to pick up some of the work needed to bring about environmental and social change here in Nova Scotia, and thus to embrace her legacy. On the environmental front, the latest issue is the placement of industrial wind turbines, misleadingly called wind farms, on hilly grounds and coastal regions throughout Nova Scotia. These turbines have unmentioned impacts upon the human heath of those living near turbines and on the wildlife in the vicinity, as in the Dalhousie Mountain and Shear Wind Glen Dhu situations, both in Pictou County.

Judy was a loving, generous, fearless and caring person, always ready to take up the cause of the underdog. She did not like foot dragging, as many of us who were her friends know. Judy tended to bring out feelings that one was not doing enough, because none of us could match her work ethic and enthusiasm. As well as her environmental passion, Judy was involved with prisoners’ rights issues, struggles against racism and with aboriginal issues.

She opposed the growing militarization of Canadian society. Downtown Toronto this weekend is perhaps the face of the future, if “we look the other way”, to use a line in one of Judy’s songs about the necessity to protest. She was also involved with feminist causes – women’s issues – where she combined a class and feminist perspective. She was not anti-male.

Judy was a wonderful musician, who taught herself to play the guitar and the violin. She used her song writing and poetry abilities and singing voice, to organize others. I thought of her as Nova Scotia’s Judi Bari (1949-1997). Judy was the first, to my knowledge, to bring this method or organizing to Nova Scotia. She has a lovely voice which resonates deeply with her audience. (I have tapes of some of her songs, so I cannot speak in the past tense by saying she “had” a lovely voice.)

I have seen Judy use her protest songs, with their funny, yet haunting and sometimes angry lyrics, to defuse potentially hostile audiences of loggers who came to disrupt meetings organized by environmentalists against forest spraying or clear cutting. For examples, songs like “The Scott Boycott Song” or “The Budworm Song.” But she also wrote moving love songs like “The Rain Song.” 

First and foremost, Judy will be remembered by her activist friends for being a direct action person, always prepared to put her body on the line for a just cause, no matter the personal consequences for herself. Lots of people asked for her help and she willingly gave it. Through her life as an organizer, she has had a major impact on environmental, social justice, feminist, and workers’ struggles in Nova Scotia.

Judy was a radical, meaning someone who came to see through the hypocrisy and fundamental contradictions of this industrial capitalist society and who wanted to do something about it. She came to see that this society, because of its very nature, brought about the environmental and social justice problems which consume the time of so many people. She felt our activities as organizers should not prop up or reinforce the existing system.

You would not find Judy appearing in the media praising the forestry practices of the local pulp mill Northern Pulp, or being photographed accepting a check shaking hands with Peter Mackay, the local Conservative MP. Judy came to see that this capitalist industrial society, based on endless economic growth without  respect for ecological limits and based on the consumption of fossil fuels, is not only self-destructive but it also feeds off the destruction of the natural world.

She came to be a believer, through her own experiences, in the philosophy of deep ecology. This philosophy says that we humans share this planet on a basis of equality with other species. These species have just as much right as humans do, to fully live out their lives. As you all know, Judy really loved animals. On quite a number of occasions, for example, she went to bat for seals, coyotes and beavers. For Judy, Nature did not belong to humans to do whatever they wanted with it. Judy believed that, if we humans were to have a future, we needed to come into a new relationship with the natural world – which is part spiritual – so that Nature became part of our consciousness.

It is often said that the radical or real activist is usually not recognized in their home town. But Judy was proud of being a “Westville girl” and of the lessons that this town and her family had taught her. The fact that we are here today in this Westville Legion to celebrate Judy’s life, shows that she was not off the mark on this appreciation.

When Judy found out in last fall that she had an advanced inoperable cancer which had spread throughout her body, I told her that I felt her legacy as an organizer, from which others could learn, deserved to be better made known and that I would like to help to do this. So we had a lot of telephone conversations when she felt up to it, from which I took notes and which I fed back to her for comments. There is now a twelve-page document on the internet called “Judy Davis - Portrait of an Activist”, which anyone in the world can access if they have a computer.

As you know, Judy was also an active trade unionist, involved in various health care battles at her place of work. Towards the end of her life, she was still playing a prominent role in trying to keep the emergency room at the Tatamagouche hospital fully staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (The support in the local area for Judy was well shown in the February 2010 benefit organized by her friends on her behalf at the Tatamagouche Legion.) In 2009, Judy also organized and directed a new theatre group in Tatamagouche, called “Another Slice of Life”, for people with physical and mental challenges and their caregivers. She was a person of many talents.

Judy was pleased that the recent spring issue of The Union Stand, the publication of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees’ Union, the largest union in the province, carried an article about her, along with her picture in front of a table with a “Save Medicare: Keep It Public” banner. I have brought this issue along to show you. The article in part reads:

“Judy Davis is well known throughout the NSGEU. A VON Home Support Worker (Local 35) who lives in Tatamagouche, Davis has been incredibly active in the union – serving over the years as president and steward of her own local, and on a variety of other union committees and councils.
She has also been an activist for social justice, the environment and women’s issues.
In the fall, Judy was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable cancer…
With Davis’s help and input, David Orton also wrote a moving essay about her – Judy Davis: Portrait of an Activist – ‘so that others may learn about Nova Scotia’s own Judi Bari (an environmental activist) and why she is a role model for others who want to change this world.’”
The web reference to the full essay is given at the end of the article.

To conclude my celebration of the life of Judy Davis, I will give the text of two of her songs, one illustrating her environmental side and the other her social justice, class and feminist side.

The first song is called “The Blockade Song” and was written in the context of a six-week blockade of a herbicide forest spraying site on Judy’s road in the summer of 1988, eventually broken by the police with arrests, including that of Judy.

The Blockade Song

Oh that land is a very good land
It grows great oaks and pine
Oh that land is a very good land
But it=s not yours or mine

The land belongs to the birds in the sky
And the little green frogs in the pond
The big black bear and the dragon fly
And the eagles in the great beyond

They say this land is private land
For owners to decide
Whether or not they=ll poison it
And spray it with herbicide

But what about the life that shares this land
Don=t they have a say
And isn=t it time to make a stand
And find a better way.

The second song was sent to me by Judy in March of this year, along with a number of tape-recorded songs. Nothing fell easily into Judy’s lap and she struggled throughout her life to continue her education. This song shows her class awareness. Judy wrote this note to me, “Hi Dave, here are the words to a song I wrote about feminism and class a long time ago. Not on the tape.”

 Doctor's Daughter

She’s the doctors daughter
and I’m my mothers child.
Her life it looked so easy
while mine seemed rather wild.

She went on to university, where she studied law.
I went out into the streets and studied what I saw.
Her sister is a singer, while mine is some man’s wife.
Her brother studies medicine, while mine is serving life.

And now she comes a calling,
rapping at my door.
She wants to call me sister and forget what went before.
And I'd like to be forgiving and have a brand new start,
but something’s nagging deep inside and I can't fool my heart.

Cause she’s the doctors daughter
and I am the doctors maid
and it will take a few long centuries
til the class distinction fades.

So, thanks Judy, for who you were as a person and for your rich activist life. You have given a lot to this world. I will never forget you and our friendship.

David Orton, June 27, 2010.

Obituary posted by Eagles Funeral Home

Judith Davis

Born in: Nova Scotia, Canada
Passed away in: Nova Scotia, Canada

TATAMAGOUCHE - Judith Lynne "Judy" Davis, Tatamagouche, formerly of Westville, passed away on Monday, June 14, 2010 in the Lillian Fraser Memorial Hospital, Tatamagouche.

Judith was born on July 27, 1951, daughter of the late James and Patricia Jean (Findlay) Davis; and sister to Jean Matheson, Tony River; James (Helen), Pleasant Valley; Fred (JoAnn), NWT; Thomas (Anita), Westville; and Edward, Westville. She is survived by many nieces and nephews.

Judith died of cancer and a broken heart, the latter caused by witnessing the continued destruction of the ecology of the planet through human exploitation, economic greed and war. The loss of wildlife habitat and the cruel slaughter of innocent animals caused her the greatest grief. The greatest joy came from the animals she shared her life with and from friends who shared her outrage and concern. A social activist and environmentalist all her life, Judith organized for social change. She was also an active unionist who dreamed of equality for all regardless of age, class, abilities, race, or sexual orientation. She would like to thank everyone who has been so kind to her over the years.

A special thanks to June Daley and Caroline Leone; and her sister, Jean for their care and support.

There will be no visitations or funeral service by her request. Interment has taken place in her family lot at Auburn Cemetery, Westville.

On line condolence can be made at


1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful tribute to a woman I wish I had known. Rest in peace Judy.