FEATUREOctober 2022

Susan Davis: Life after Congress

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By Mimi Pollack

After serving 35 years as a public servant- six years in the California State Assembly , nine years on the Board of Education, and 20 years in the US Congress- what does one do after retiring? In the case of Susan Davis, one becomes a “private servant”, and continues to help others. In fact, Davis often reaches back to her social work education as a driving force in her approach to public service. An example of that can be found in a 2019 interview with Greg Moran of the San Diego Union Tribune. He writes, “In more than a dozen interviews with the Union-Tribune, constituents, community advocates and Republican and Democratic officials, described Davis as someone who was authentic, dedicated, kind, cooperative and above all else, a true public servant”.

Davis may be retired from congress, but she is not retired from serving others. She coordinates co-sponsorship under the Alliance for African Assistance agency to support an Afghan family evacuated after the fall of Afghanistan. In addition, she was sworn in as a board member at JFS and as a member of the newly reconstituted Commission on the Status of Women, as well as joining the very active service oriented ROTARY 33. With her House Armed Services background, Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Davis to the Commission tasked with reforming how the Pentagon budgets for our national security.

On a more personal note, Davis asked her neighbors to join together and assist an Afghan family in getting settled in California. Many Afghans fled their country last fall after the Taliban took over and chaos ensued. Since November, more than 500 Afghan families have arrived in the San Diego area. Many private citizens, like Davis’ group began to help by sponsoring individual families. They helped the families by working with agencies finding apartments for the families and assembling basic necessities. They assisted in helping the parents enroll their children in school, as well as ESL classes. They tried to help them navigate life in America. A major challenge for Afghans has been learning to drive here and particularly difficult for women who face isolation.

Many of the fathers had worked as translators for the US military and would have been in grave danger had they stayed in Afghanistan. Davis’s “adopted” family found a place to live in La Mesa. To protect the family, Davis is not naming them, but she says that although it has been a rewarding and positive experience, there were definitely challenges along the way in getting them settled. Life in Afghanistan is so different from life in America, with many cultural differences. For example, it is not generally acceptable for a male other than a spouse or a close relative to teach a woman how to drive.

Here in San Diego, four agencies have been working with the incoming Afghan refugees, including Jewish Family Service, Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committee, and Alliance for African Assistance. As more and more refugees arrived, these agencies have relied on private citizens, such as Davis to help in getting the newcomers settled. This has been a huge undertaking and more volunteers would be greatly appreciated as the agencies can get overwhelmed.

Davis also has a special connection to Afghanistan. When she was in congress, she made13 trips to Afghanistan where she not only checked in on Armed Forces Personnel, she also was intent on getting to know the women of Afghanistan and finding ways she could help empower them. To that end she led a bi-partisan women’s delegation to Afghanistan. Last fall when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban and so many fled, she offered her assistance to incoming refugees.

Women’s issues, education, and women in the military and family support roles have all been important topics for Davis. Two of the committees she served on while in Congress were Armed Services and Education and the Workforce. Both these committees were well suited for her as she served on the Board of Education in San Diego for nine years and her husband of now 55 years had been a doctor in the Air Force. In his 2015 article in San Diego Jewish World, Don Harrison writes, “Seeking appointment to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce was a natural progression for Davis, and so, one might say, was the House Armed Services Committee, for which she drew upon her experiences as an Air Force wife during the Vietnam War.  She gravitated to issues affecting military personnel and their families”.

Judging by the commissions she has joined since leaving congress, her work with refugees, women, education, and the armed forces will continue. At 78 years young, the energetic Davis is retiring on her terms. Plus, she now has more time to enjoy good conversations in the company of her children and grandchildren.

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