For nearly 70 of her 83 years, Darlene Davies had a love affair with the Old Globe theater in Balboa Park. The Mission Hills resident, who died on Tuesday, started out there as a child actor, then became a Globe historian, multi-term board member, volunteer and donor. Additionally, since 1985, the Globe’s outdoor festival theater has been named after her late husband, Lowell Davies.
But Davies’ work for the Globe was only part of a busy life that included chairing the speech-language pathology departments of two local hospitals and serving on the San Diego Arts and Culture Commission, in San Diego Women’s Advisory Council, to the Balboa Park Committee and the City Parks and Recreation Board. She was also an award-winning writer whose published works included a 17-part series on the 1915 Panama-California Exposition at Balboa Park.
Paul Marshall, who had been Davies’ life partner of 36 years, said she maintained a feverish activity pace because she was diagnosed with a heart problem in the 1980s and had no only five or six years to live.
“She thought she would die young, so she always tried to stay ahead of everything and never wanted to slow down,” Marshall said, adding that Davies died of a stroke.
Born Darlene Geer in the Los Angeles area in April 1939, she spent several years of her childhood in foster care because her parents were both sick. Marshall said her experience of moving from house to house as a child shaped two elements of her personality. She became more interested in helping people in need, and she developed a friendly, outgoing personality.
“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who didn’t like him. She loved meeting strangers and introducing herself,” said Marshall, a retired TV producer who co-founded KPBS-TV.
In 1951, 11-year-old Darlene Geer moved to San Diego with her parents. One of his earliest memories here was walking with his father over the Cabrillo Bridge and seeing Balboa Park and the Old Globe for the first time. At age 14, she began performing in the Junior Theater Wing of the Old Globe, which eventually split to become the San Diego Junior Theater. She also enjoyed playing at Hoover High School. But in college, she decided to major in speech therapy rather than acting. She later taught in the speech pathology department at SDSU, chaired the speech pathology department at Children’s (now Rady) Hospital, and served as the first director of the Speech and Hearing Clinic at Naval Medical Center ( now Balboa) at Balboa Park.
Her first marriage to visual artist Thomas Gould ended in divorce, but he produced his only son, David Gould, who now lives in New York.
Whenever she had free time, she volunteered at the Old Globe, where her second husband, lawyer Lowell Davies, served on the Globe’s board for 43 years, most of it as chairman. He died on April 29, 1983, at the age of 86. Two years later, the Globe’s outdoor stage, rebuilt after an arson attack, was named in his honor.
In the years that followed, Davies held a few terms on the board of the Old Globe and auxiliary to the Globe Guilders and chaired a Globe gala and fashion show. She has written frequently about the Globe for local publications and has compiled and curated Globe memorabilia for her 2016 First Folio exhibit at the San Diego Central Library, as well as the 2018 Muses of The Old Globe exhibit at Women’s Museum of California.
“We take some comfort in the fact that she attended the opening night of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ just a few days ago at her beloved Lowell Davies Festival Theatre,” said the Chairman of the Board of Old Globe, Evelyn Olson Lamden. “All of us at the Old Globe pay tribute to her legacy and she will be sorely missed.”
In a 2014 interview with the Union-Tribune, Davies spoke warmly of meeting the Old Globe’s founding artistic director, the late Craig Noel, and his successor Jack O’Brien, who led the Globe from 1981 to 2007. In an email on Friday, O’Brien wrote that while Lowell Davies was one of a loyal and determined group of believers who “wanted” the 85-year-old theater to exist, Darlene Davies was the spirit and the enduring servant of the Globe.
“For literally decades, Darlene Davies has quietly provided The Globe with her unending love, interest and energy, spontaneously and without compensation, night after night, season after season, paying attention, chronicling artists, events , productions, press kits with the meticulous care of a born steward,” O’Brien said. “She never drew attention to herself, she never made demands, she never asked for anything other than closeness to those who generate ennobling art within our community.”
In 2017, the Women’s Museum of California inducted Davies into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame, for her enduring dedication to the city of San Diego.
She served four terms on the San Diego City Women’s Advisory Council and five years on the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women. She served nine years on the city’s Parks and Recreation Board and nine years on the Balboa Park Committee. She also served for over 11 years on the Horton Plaza Theater Foundation and two terms on the San Diego Arts and Culture Commission.
In her work as a historian, writer, and archivist, Davies wrote “Mortar Board: Jane K. Smith Cap and Gown Chapter,” a book that chronicles the lives of five women who contributed to the success of the SDSU chapter of the honor society. Her series on the 1915 Panama-California Expo was placed in a time capsule in Balboa Park in 2015. Davies was also a freelance writer, contributing articles to Ranch & Coast Magazine for over 25 years.
“Darlene was a powerhouse who dedicated herself to whatever she got involved in,” said Ranch & Coast editor Mia Stefanko. “Countless charities and organizations, and frankly the San Diego area, have benefited from his kind heart. She was so passionate about telling stories, often saying that there was still so much she wanted to write.
The Old Globe is planning a celebration of life for Davies, but details have not been announced. Marshall said she would be buried in a family plot at Glen Abbey Memorial Park in Bonita.