2006 Recipients: Jerry and Denny Davidoff

During a Plenary session at the 2006 General Assembly, Moderator Ginig Courter called on UUA Trustee at Large José Ballester, chair of the Award Committee, to present the award for distinguished service.

Ballester said that the identity of this year's award recipients "has been one of the worst kept secrets," and then went on to say that two things he has accomplished are "making Jerry Davidoff laugh uncontrollably, and making Denny Davidoff cry uncontrollably." He then went on to describe and laud Jerry and Denny Davidoff, recipients of this year's award, the highest conferred in Unitarian Universalism.

Ballester, in sharing the citation on the award, said:

"Recognizing the delegate standing at the 'Con' microphone, the Moderator demanded, 'Are you there to help or just to make trouble?' The delegate replied, 'You and I have been trying to answer that question for forty-three years!'"

It was but one encounter in the lives of Denny and Jerry Davidoff, who have worked and led in our UU movement for half a century. Ballester said, "Their lives testify to Margaret Mead's truth that a small group (in this case, a group of two) thoughtful and committed people can change the world. Together, they have changed ours."

He continued: "Jerry: lawyer, wit, raconteur, searcher of hidden meanings, confidant of ministers." Jerry Davidoff has served on the Commission on Appraisal and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. He is known as a "rules maven, canny advocate of excellence, cheerleader, mentor and truth-teller to ministers." Ballester said Davidoff's enthusiasm for ministers extends to wearing red socks on Sundays since this is the color of the academic hood for divinity degrees. Beyond the UUA, Jerry Davidoff has served as trustee and secretary of the Alban Institute, has been a long-time member of his local Westport, CT, Board of Education (as chair for two years), and founder and original board member of the Connecticut Women's Educational and Legal Fund. He has served as board chair of the Westchester Institution for Training in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. Davidoff also turned his law practice away from adversarial struggle toward the arts of reconciliation so as to better serve justice. Ballester said, "The inventory of Jerry Davidoff's achievements could easily be extended, yet nothing on that list could rival the one accomplishment that dwarfs all others: he married well."

Turning to Denny Davidoff, Ballester said, "For over three decades she has taught us what we must be about; taught us with wit and insight, sympathy and understanding; and even on those occasions when lesser mortals succumb to exasperation and despair, she could go to her well of good humor, teaching and guiding us while we were almost too busy laughing to notice." He recounted her professional career in advertising and marketing, and then said that "in 1973 she was elected to the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation (UUWF) board and never looked back." In addition to her work for the UUWF, she has served on the General Assembly Planning Committee, and is best known as UUA Moderator from 1993 to 2001. Ballester said her fingerprints are on every substantive UU organization. "One week's agenda may include her chairing the Partner Church Council's task force on economic fairness in New York; chairing the Board meeting of the Church of the Larger Fellowship in Boston; attending the trustees meeting of Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago." She is also co-founder of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and a trustee of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.

Ballester concluded, "Denny and Jerry, you are ever ready to help us with our problems and, when we shrink from that responsibility, you give us trouble. You hold us to your high standard, requiring of us no less than what you require of yourselves: that the liberal religious vision of truth, justice and love be incarnated in our deeds and in our lives." With that, they were presented with the 2006 Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.

In response, Jerry Davidoff told delegates that when Denny was elected Moderator of the UUA, he quipped that he knew precisely what his job would be: to walk four paces behind. He said, in forty-some odd years of marriage, he had seldom gotten that close! He also shared his gratitude with the Unitarian Universalist community for offering one of the greatest gifts that anyone can be given: the opportunity to love.

Denny Davidoff began by saying that she, too, married well. She then recounted the beginning of her involvement in UU leadership. It began in 1971 when she arrived in Washington, D.C., for General Assembly. She was then, she said, "Mrs. Jerry Davidoff." But upon the urging of Mary Lou Thompson, the Deputy Director of the UU Women's Federation, she stepped up to "notice" that the leadership on the stage at that General Assembly were all men. She said that with this act, "a GA career was begun."

"I tell you this tonight," said Davidoff, "to acknowledge the mentoring role of Mary Lou Thompson and to do it publicly. And to let you know that someone—many someones—helped me be who I am." She and Jerry would not have gone to their first GA without Ed Lane, their minister, encouraging them, she said. "All along the way, I have been guided, formed, educated, encouraged, loved into power. We all need help. We all need each other. And I have tried to reciprocate: to lend support, to lend a hand, to guide and to love others into power. We are stronger and more effective when we are in right relationships. We are all in this enterprise together." She ended by quoting the covenant that is said every week in her home congregation, and as the delegates joined in, these words were heard: "Love is the spirit of this church and service its law. This is our great covenant. To dwell together in peace. To seek the truth in love. And to help one another."

The plenary erupted in thunderous applause and a standing ovation in recognition of the huge impact Denny and Jerry Davidoff have made on Unitarian Universalism and the UUA.