In Memoriam Florence Davis ’79

Florence Davis ’79, vice chair of NYU Law’s Board of Trustees and director and president of The Starr Foundation, died on May 21, Dean Troy McKenzie announced today. “Her unwavering dedication as a leading attorney and philanthropist, coupled with her role as a trustee for over 30 years and vice chair of our Board, has forever left an indelible mark on our institution and the legal profession,” McKenzie said in his emailed announcement, adding, “Florence will be remembered not only for her exceptional professional achievements but also for her warmth, compassion, exceptional humor, and unwavering dedication to the principles of justice.” 

“The Law School was so fortunate to have had Florence at the center of everything over the last few decades,” says NYU Law Board Chair David Tanner ’84. “She served in almost every role on the board and always did so with excellent judgment, humor, and passion. Florence exemplified these traits as she courageously battled her cancer and, in so doing, was a model of resilience for everyone.”

Collage of Florence Davis with students, graduates, and chair member.
Clockwise from top left: Florence Davis ’79; with Sara Moss ’74; with her daughter Sarah O’Brien ’15; with C. V. Starr and Starr Foundation scholars at the 2017 Scholarship Reception

Davis earned her JD from NYU Law in 1979 as a Root-Tilden Scholar. She received her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, where she achieved the highest honors and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Following her graduation from NYU Law, Davis entered private practice with Sullivan & Cromwell. From 1986 to 1995, she took on several roles at Morgan Stanley & Co., where she rose to the position of principal and director of worldwide regulatory affairs. In 1995, she became vice president and general counsel of American International Group, Inc. 

Beginning in 1999, she served as president of The Starr Foundation, guiding the organization’s philanthropic endeavors. Under her leadership, The Starr Foundation, which has donated more than $3.7 billion since 1955, had a significant impact in areas such as medical research and healthcare, education, human needs, international relations and public policy, culture, and the environment.

Eric M. and Laurie B. Roth Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus Trevor Morrison recalls meeting Davis in 2013, when he was interviewing to be dean. “It was obvious then that she was a force to be reckoned with,” says Morrison. “I was immediately drawn to her and throughout my deanship I relied on her for her wise counsel on a range of complex matters of great importance to the Law School. Florence was also a wonderfully warm and supportive friend, and I feel so grateful to have known her.”

Throughout her career, Davis remained a leader in public service. She served as an NYU Law trustee and a member of the NYU Board of Trustees, and was a foundational supporter of some of the Law School’s most distinctive initiatives, including the Weinfeld Program; the Root-Tilden-Kern Program; the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law; and NYU Law’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Her dedication to making education accessible to all led her to help establish several scholarships at organizations and institutions around the country through her role as Starr Foundation president.

Davis was a trustee of the New York Botanical Garden, a director of the International Rescue Committee, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the advisory committee of the Newman’s Own Foundation. She also served as a member of Mayor Bloomberg’s Committee on Economic Opportunity, and on the board of the Eisenhower Fellowships.

Posted May 23, 2023; updated August 24, 2023