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Love Notes From a Spouse: The First Working Mother to Lead the Nation's Oldest Organized Bar Finds Her Balance Backwards and in High Heels

by Robert J. Simmons

Winter 1999, Vol. 62, No. 4

Most Philadelphia lawyers who have met the 73rd Chancellor through her Bar Association activities know her as a compassionate campaigner on behalf of pro bono legal services and a capable consensus builder among diverse and competing interests. Those who have dealt with Doreen Davis as a management labor lawyer know her as a strong advocate for her clients and an imaginative legal theorist. The parents, teachers and coaches who see Samantha's mother at school and sports events know her as the person who always handcrafts something delicious for the latest bake sale. But there are few people in any venue who know that in order to achieve these treasured goals, Doreen had to overcome a childhood of extreme poverty and an abusive father who tried to stifle her dream of attending law school.

The film star Ginger Rogers once chastised a reporter by reminding him that she not only had performed the same strenuous song and dance numbers as Fred Astaire, but she had performed them "backwards and in high heels." Not only has Doreen done a remarkable job of leading the Bar Association, building a law practice, running our household and raising our daughter, but she also has done it all "backwards and in high heels." Did I mention that she is the first working mother to lead the nation's oldest organized Bar?

One of our Chancellor's prime motivations is her devotion to our daughter and our family. Whether it is a parent-teacher conference, "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," or a gymnastics team performance, Doreen tries never to miss one of Samantha's special events. For example, on one occasion after two days in Toronto at an American Bar Association meeting, Doreen flew home for one evening to join us at a family affair. The next morning she flew back to Toronto for an afternoon vote on a controversial issue affecting Philadelphia lawyers, then proceeded directly to Los Angeles for several days of hearings before the National Labor Relations Board for one of her clients. Of course, as soon as the hearings were over, she was on the red eye back to Philadelphia in order to attend an important early morning partnership meeting. Indeed, finding the balance among our family, her firm, her practice and the Bar is Doreen's quest. It requires the constant feedback, communication and support of her partners and associates, our respective secretaries, our nanny and the Bar staff, as well as assorted family members and friends. Our thanks go out to all of them.

Even when Doreen has multiple Bar Association, firm or client functions to attend in a single night, she does her best to arrive home in time for a bedtime cuddle with Samantha and a few minutes of personal quiet time walking the dog. On evenings when no events are scheduled, Doreen unwinds in the kitchen. Cooking dinner is a family event in which Samantha performs sous chef responsibilities far beyond those of most fourth graders. By order of the Chancellor, mention must be made that Samantha is in top academic form at The Baldwin School; loves travel, music and games; reads voraciously; and is the proud owner of a canine, feline and piscine menagerie. She is a talented athlete in water sports and track, who recently was selected for a coveted spot on a competitive gymnastics team. The Chancellor's edict extends to the unassailable proposition that all of these exemplary characteristics must have been inherited through the maternal line.

Doreen and Samantha share a love of sun and water on summer weekends at the sea shore. In Longport, NJ, Doreen enjoys the company of many of our Bar colleagues and dear friends with beach time or summer evening meals. A signature of her personality is the fact that at almost any time during the summer season when we are not at our shore home, it is occupied by the families of our brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and other family members who otherwise might not have the opportunity for such a trip.

Doreen's life today is in sharp contrast to her youth. She was raised in Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania, a very small town northwest of Wilkes-Barre. Jobs for her parents were scarce with the closings of one after another of the local textile mills, where her mother worked, and the coal mines, where her father worked. Doreen's mother, Naomi, juggled work with caring for her six children. All eight lived in a small home with one bathroom and no heating on the upper floors. Home canning was important, but public assistance and government surplus foods often were required to feed the family. Meat could be scarce in the winter if Doreen's father was not successful during hunting season. Despite the hardships, the family made their own fun. Scrabble and Canasta were favorite games and the kids spent their summer days swimming and water skiing on the lake.

All of the children worked for their own pocket money and to help keep the family going. At age twelve, Doreen took a job at the local bingo hall. It is believed that the statute of limitations has run out on any potential child labor violations. She sold bingo cards and made change in nickels and dimes for the welfare mothers who played bingo all day long, while their unemployed spouses drank shots and beers at a bar across the road from Doreen's family home. In today's Philadelphia, it is hard to imagine that in the Harvey's Lake of the 1960s there were no fast food or retail jobs for the town's young people. In high school she beat out the more experienced competitors for the coveted job of bingo caller. It was the best job in the hall because it paid an extra nickel per hour and it had longer breaks. Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that it also was the only job in town with its own spotlight.

Doreen spent her school years trying to get a better education than her school system offered. For most students in the Lake Lehman School District, high school was nothing more than an impediment to the day when they could find real work. The commercial course was far more popular than the academic course. The few who attended college often returned to teach in the school district. No one, except Doreen, considered that college could lead to law school and law school could lead to a new life. Indeed, Doreen was the first person from her school district ever to have attended law school.

Much of Doreen's ambition came from her love of books, a love that she considered to be a precious gift from her mother. Her mother encouraged her ambition to attend law school, even though her father opposed them. While Doreen was at Penn State, her father met an early death from smoking-related causes. In college, Doreen flourished academically and socially. She was lucky to receive considerable love and support from her sister, Glenda, and her brother-in-law, Kirk, who lived in State College. Then, as now, Doreen combined hard work with the maximum enjoyment of all that her situation had to offer. Not surprisingly, student government was a favorite activity. Loans and scholarships were essential to pay for her education, and to save money, she finished her undergraduate degree in three years, majoring in labor studies. She proceeded directly to Temple Law School where she graduated summa cum laude and now serves on its Board of Visitors.

In law school, Doreen took a labor law seminar taught by the attorney who would become her professional mentor, H. Thomas Felix, II. After graduation, she worked at the National Labor Relations Board, then joined Tom at Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell and Hippel. In 1984, Doreen and Tom were among the founding partners of a boutique labor and litigation firm that merged with Montgomery, McCracken, Walker and Rhoads in 1991. Doreen serves as chair of her firm's thirty-person Labor and Employment Department. By her account, it is the largest management labor practice group located in the city. The firm and its management committee have supported Doreen fully in her intensive service to the Bar Association and the Bar Foundation. In addition, she has received help and encouragement from Montgomery, McCracken's Chair, David Marion, who is a former Chancellor.

Doreen's Bar career began in 1982 when she was appointed by Frank Devine and David Pollack to fill the remainder of my unexpired term on the Young Lawyers Division Executive Board. She went on to a very successful year as chair of the YLD, and then was elected to her first term on the Board of Governors. She has been appointed chair or co-chair of numerous Bar committees, including Labor Law, Bylaws and Budget. She served as chair of the Board of Governors in 1996 during her second term on the Board. Intertwined with these professional activities have been her activities on behalf of the pro bono legal community. She is most proud of her work in helping to establish Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA), as founding co-chair of A Lawyer for Every Child (ALEC) and as co-chair of the 1996 Andrew Hamilton Ball.

Of course, even a person with such an impressive record of achievement and accomplishment can make a few mistakes along the way. For instance, why would someone who then weighed 85 pounds chose to play a 40-pound Glockenspiel in a marching band? Some activities can be explained away as youthful exuberance, such as the questionable antics of the Lake Lehman High School Cheerleading Squad or, later, the decision to take up drag racing on Delaware Avenue in a Datsun B-210. However, some lapses in judgment are inexplicable, such as Doreen's decision to marry me. Well, there's one thing I can say for certain: just as Samantha and I have been the beneficiary of Doreen's love, support and wisdom, I believe that the Philadelphia Bar Association will be the beneficiary of Doreen's service as our 73rd Chancellor.