Florence Davis ’79 remembered at portrait unveiling

On May 9, family, friends, and colleagues of the late Florence Davis ’79, vice chair and longtime member of NYU Law’s Board of Trustees, gathered in Greenberg Lounge to share stories, offer tributes, and witness an unveiling of a portrait of Davis. She passed away on May 21, 2023.

During the event, the Starr Foundation, the philanthropic organization where Davis served as director and president for nearly 25 years, announced a grant to NYU Law in Davis’s honor. The grant will support the Law School’s Loan Repayment and Assistance Program (LRAP) Plus, which works in conjunction with the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to reduce or eliminate student loan repayment for alumni who work in public service.

Welcoming the audience, Dean Troy McKenzie ’00 mentioned Davis’s long record of engagement with the Law School, including her thirty years on the Board of Trustees—five as vice chair; her involvement in the search committees that selected him and his predecessor Trevor Morrison, Eric M. and Laurie B. Roth Professor of Law, as deans; and her support for major programs, including LRAP and the Center for Race, Inequality, and the Law.

Former colleagues and friends of the late Florence Davis in front of her portrait in Greenberg Lounge
Dean Troy McKenzie ’00, Courtney O’Malley, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Anthony Welters ’77, and David Tanner ’84

“I think we all remember and appreciate what Florence did for this institution,” said McKenzie. “We want all future generations of law students, faculty, and others who come to NYU, and come to this great room, Greenberg Lounge, to see her among those [portraits of others] who played such an important role in the history of this institution,” he said.

Courtney O’Malley, Davis’s successor at the Starr Foundation, who worked with Davis for over a decade, said that she had tried to channel Davis’s penchant for writing remarks that were “perfect, substantive, memorable, relatable, hilarious, and brief.” Not only did Davis have a commanding presence and sharp intellect, O’Malley recalled, but she went out of her way to make people feel comfortable. “She just instinctively knew how to loosen up a room and get down to business,” said O’Malley. “She led with confidence, conviction, clarity, and kindness, above all else.”

O’Malley said that Davis cared about few things as much as alleviating the financial burdens of law students. In her honor, the foundation has established the Starr Foundation Loan Repayment Assistance Program Fund at NYU Law.

In their tributes, Anthony Welters ’77, chair emeritus of the Board of Trustees, and David Tanner ’84, the Board’s current chair, emphasized Davis’s quick wit, humility, and no-nonsense demeanor. Welters noted that the two were inducted to the board on the same evening, and Davis quickly became someone he knew he could rely on. “She raised the bar because a lot of people are talkers…. She’s in that category of do-ers,” Welters said.

Tanner called Davis his “invaluable partner until the end,” noting that Davis, a Root Tilden Scholar at the Law School, was passionate about making law school more affordable. He called the grant from the Starr Foundation a fitting honor. “She would have been very, very, proud,” Tanner said.

After the unveiling, one of Davis’s two daughters, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, took the lectern. O’Brien said that the Law School was her mother’s happy place, and it was only right that her likeness should hang in the school to which she was so devoted.

“My mother's self-deprecation undersells how much she really enjoyed becoming a lawyer and being a lawyer and evolving as a lawyer. NYU Law was vital to that evolution and to the trajectory of her career and her life,” O’Brien said. She noted that her sister, Sarah O’Brien ’15, was hooded by their mother at the Law School’s 2015 Convocation ceremony.

“When I walk around the whole city, especially around [NYU Law], I think, ‘It’s a place where Mom always felt at home.’ And here she is,” Rebecca O’Brien said, gesturing to the portrait.

Posted June 13, 2024.