you had a problem, whether you needed some guidance, or needed some counseling. He was always there for you to give you that guidance.”
In that role, Davis always made himself accessible. “You could talk to Darwin anytime of the night and day-he was always there,” says Dennis Dowdell Jr., executive director of the Executive Leadership Council Institute for Leadership, Development and Research.
One of Davis’ key qualities, says Brooks, was his “failure wasn’t an option mentality.” That spirit helped him overcome obstacles early in his career. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas in 1954 and going on to earn a master’s degree in education at Wayne State University, Davis couldn’t get a job in corporate America. Undeterred, he served in the U.S. Army and then taught math in Detroit public schools while still looking for a corporate sales job.
In 1966, his persistence paid off when the civil rights movement led to new opportunities for blacks in the business world, and Davis was hired by Equitable.
Aside from his corporate success, Davis was also a family man. He leaves behind his wife, Velmarie, four children, and seven grandchildren. “I saw him as a very engaged family man,” says Deborah Elam, chief diversity officer for General Electric and a close friend of the Davis family.
He was also a community activist involved with such groups as the National Urban League, Alpha Phi Alpha, the 100 Black Men of Connecticut, and the NAACP.
“He was totally into giving back,” says Elam. “Darwin was larger than life.”