She didn’t drink or smoke and, even though she lived in Southern California for much of her life, she never drove. But she put remarkable mileage on her body’s odometer.
Virginia Davis died Sept. 29 at the age of 108, a few weeks shy of her 109th birthday. The longtime Santa Monica resident will be cremated and her ashes will be scattered at sea, as were her wishes.
“She was a nice, good, friendly lady that everybody really liked,” said her 77-year-old daughter, Fran Garbo. “She lived a very full, good life.”
Davis was born Oct. 16, 1907, in New Castle, Delaware, a small city on the Delaware River. She attended what is now Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, where she studied business, graduating in 1925.
After getting married she moved to Southern California, where her husband landed work in the movie industry. She lived for more than 70 years in Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
Those close to Davis remembered her as a beloved community member with simple needs, an outstanding work ethic and a love of Huell Howser’s television shows.
She worked as a waitress at a few different places, her daughter said, making 25 cents an hour and refusing tips that were offered to her. For many years, Davis and her husband traveled to Yellowstone National Park every year to work as dorm parents.
She also worked as a custodian at an area Masonic lodge, where her husband was a member, and assisted a local bridge club that once used the facility. She held various jobs into her 90s.
“She was a very hard-working lady,” Garbo said.
Davis was steadfast in her independence, becoming known for riding the bus or walking in her neighborhood. When she got vacation time, she’d buy a bus ticket to travel back east to see her relatives, stopping in different states along the way to visit friends. She would carry her money in her sock, her daughter said.
“She is a very simple lady, but still she is very sociable,” caregiver Rebecca Montalban told the Daily Press in 2014. “Everyday she’s receiving mail and writing card and notes. … Everybody here loves her.”
Davis witnessed dramatic transformations in society over the course of her life, from two world wars and humankind’s first missions into space to technological advancements such as color television and the Internet.
“There’s so many things that have changed, it’s hard to express it,” she once told the Daily Press.
This past summer a neighbor chauffeured Davis in the annual Fourth of July parade in Santa Monica. When her name was announced to attendees at the intersection of Main Street and Ocean Park Boulevard, crowds roared with applause.
Davis, who was born during Theodore Roosevelt’s time in office, lived through 19 different presidencies. She came in close contact with the current administration a few years ago when President Obama visited Cross Campus in Santa Monica, a co-working space near her residence on 10th Street. As she watched Obama’s motorcade, a secret service agent handed her a gold pin.
Her mental faculties were strong in her final years, even after she came down with pneumonia last November.
Estate lawyer Jeffrey Condon, who first met Davis about a decade ago, said his client always insisted on coming into his office. He recalled asking her general trivia questions a few months ago to confirm her legal competence, and she was still cognitively sharp.
As Condon said goodbye to her following a visit a few months ago, he said, he knew he probably wouldn’t see her again.
“She was really with it until the end,” he said. “What a great run.”
Davis was preceded in death by her husband, Francis Davis, and a son, Harold Hoagland. She is survived by Garbo as well as other family members and many friends.
Plans for memorial services have not yet been finalized.