Before there were computers, there was Doris Davis and her Rolodex. When attorney Massey Bedsole wanted to correspond with someone, he would call out from his office in Mobile to his longtime legal secretary, whose desk was just a few feet away. Plucking a card from her Rolodex, Doris would give Massey all the information he needed to write a personal letter, including children’s names, what schools they attended, who was graduating or expecting a baby, and even the names of pets. “She had a Rolodex that anybody in Mobile would have paid good money for,” recalled Curry Adams, Massey’s daughter and executor of the estate of Doris M. Davis, who died in 2014 at the age of 93.
Although Doris and husband Johnny did not have children, her life’s work will impact young people far into the future. She bequeathed her entire estate to University of Mobile, creating an endowed scholarship that will provide financial support for as many as 10 students each year, in perpetuity. An additional portion of her estate will go toward the construction of a globe fountain that will be the centerpiece of the Lackey Great Commission Lawn.
Kevin Wilburn, vice president for advancement and assistant to the president for church relations, said that a large part of the $350,000 estate gift created the Doris M. Davis Endowed Scholarship, which is an unrestricted, need-based scholarship that provides awards to students with financial need.
“For many students, it will mean the difference of being able to attend University of Mobile, or not being able to attend,” Wilburn said. “This is a significant contribution to our endowment.”
It was a university Massey loved, one he helped found and support throughout his life as a member and chairman of the board of trustees. What Massey supported, Doris supported. She assisted him in his legal work, as well as his volunteer and community leadership. They worked together for 60 years.
“She believed in University of Mobile. She was there at the groundbreaking of the original building,” said Curry,
Doris was born in Mobile on May 21, 1921, attended Barton Academy and Murphy High School, and married John Davis in 1940 at the age of 19. They were married 38 years before he died.
She began working for Massey Bedsole as his legal secretary in 1947, when the firm had four lawyers and four assistants. It grew to become Hand Arendall, one of the largest law firms in Alabama with more than 70 lawyers and offices in Mobile, Birmingham, Fairhope and Athens, AL.
Doris never went to college, but obtained secretarial training and was an expert in shorthand. Throughout her career, she would type out legal documents on a manual typewriter with carbon paper for copies. She never made the move to computers, and she and Massey worked comfortably together in that fashion until it came time to move the corporate offices to the RSA tower in downtown Mobile. Massey decided it was time to retire.
“They had worked for months sorting, shredding and passing on files to the appropriate lawyers,” Curry said. “The shelves and drawers were empty, the typewriter was covered, and Mass at age 90 and Doris at age 86 happily went home.”
Both died at the age of 93, several years apart. The red-haired, immaculately attired business woman with an outgoing personality was the first president of the American Business Women’s Bienville Chapter, which was formed as a network for working women. One year, she came in second place nationwide for “Secretary of the Year.”
She was an active member of Mobile Toastmasters, showcasing that talent with a speech to the Mobile Bar Association on the trials and tribulations of a legal secretary.
“She regaled the lawyers with 17 pages of confessions and stories told by secretaries about their bosses. She received thunderous applause, even by lawyers who recognized their own stories,” Curry said.
“The thing that many people missed was that Doris was a savvy business woman,” Curry said. “She lived frugally with a modest wardrobe, clipping coupons, taking the Kiplinger Report and all those financial magazines and reading them cover to cover.”
Into her 80s, she walked three blocks to a bus stop near her Midtown home, eschewed purchasing new clothes and household items since the ones she already had were perfectly serviceable, and watched her pennies. “Doris has shown us the virtues of hard work and loyalty to a job, the wisdom of embracing a simple lifestyle in order to provide for her future, and the willingness to live independently and be happy,” Curry added. Curry said Doris and her husband had a heart for children and helped support several orphanages, even bringing the children into their home on weekends. Providing the financial resources so that other people’s children could attend college appealed to her. “She probably thought of herself as just one more person in a large law firm, never realizing how much she would impact others one day,” Curry said. “She would be thrilled.”