We’ve lost a leader extraordinaire

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Few names were more synonymous with Siesta Key than that of John Davidson

By John Morton

When in need of something on Siesta Key, how many times have you heard these words:
“I’ll bet you Davidson’s has that.”
The man whose business had it all certainly gave his all and did it all. For generations of residents and visitors alike, John Davidson’s name not only resonated throughout the island it seemed almost palpable. You heard it wherever you went.
One of Siesta Key’s undisputed pioneers and leaders, Davidson died peacefully Jan. 22 at age 92 having lived an exemplary life.
“Energetic, warm, friendly, generous,” were words Rita Davidson, his wife of 43 years, used to describe her husband. “He lived life to the fullest and we are grateful for that.
“He really had a fabulous life.”
The day before his death, all six of Davidson’s children were at his side for what Rita called “lots of wonderfully tender moments.”

John Davidson in the early days of his business. (submitted photo)

A celebration of that life was scheduled by the family for Feb. 27 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Field Club, 1400 Field Rd., on the mainland along the Intracoastal Waterway just across from Siesta Key.
That was where he served as the club’s commodore. It was the longtime home to his Equanimity sailing boat, providing an activity along with golf, tennis and croquet that gave the hardworking Davidson a reprieve from the many business and volunteer endeavors he pursued.
And he pursued them full bore.
“My dad taught us about the importance of work ethic through leading by example. One of his core principles was, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it 110% and see it through,’” his daughter Suzanne Munroe said. “That has always stuck with me.”
Born in Highland Park, Michigan, Davidson was raised in Elmhurst, Illinois. He became an Eagle Scout, attended Duke University, and later received his pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado.
A vacation to Sarasota in 1956 introduced him to a place he’d fall in love with and eventually call home, establishing in the Siesta Key Village what would become Davidson Drugs in 1958. That business, which would grow to seven locations throughout the area — including in the 1960s a second Siesta Key store on the southern portion of the island — lasted 65 years before coming to an end right at the time of his passing.

John and Rita Davidson. (submitted photo)

Throughout those years, he also invested in numerous pieces of commercial real estate on the Key and managed the properties. The creation of the award-winning Pelican Press newspaper in 1971, which was sold in 1998, was another accomplishment.
On the volunteer front, the list of organizations with which he was involved is varied and impressive. It includes Little League, Boy Scouts, 17 years as a trustee with the Selby Foundation, president of both the Argus Foundation and Sarasota Bay Rotary Club, founder and director of Enterprise Bank, and director of Selby Gardens.
His hobbies were also often on the grand scale.
He enjoyed working his lush gardens, especially the coconut palms within, and planted select coconuts to cultivate the next generation. He collected antique maps, representative of his love of travel. And such travels, coinciding with a love for photography, took him as far as Africa where he captured images of the “Big Five” — the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and African buffalo.
His lens also took him to Hudson Bay, Canada to photograph polar bears and Antarctica to capture images of penguins.

Sailing in Sarasota Bay on the Equanimity. (submitted photo)

Back on the business front, all six of Davidson’s children worked in the stores in some manner or another. Son Richard would eventually serve as president of Davidson Drugs and son Bob owned Davidson Home Health, a separate division of the family business.
Behind the scenes, the children would bless Davidson with 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Finally, Davidson’s quest to incorporate Siesta Key as an island with its own government was a major focal point for him down the stretch. He made efforts to do such in the 1960s, again in the 1990s, and beginning in the spring of 2021.
As he approached age 90 is when he took it to the next level as chairman of Save Siesta Key. The non-profit group would raise roughly $250,000 and take a bill to the Florida Legislature in the spring of 2023.
“Siesta Key is a natural for incorporation. I’m just amazed it wasn’t incorporated before,” Davidson said in the spring of 2021. “I plan to work hard on this and get it to a vote this time. Let’s see what happens.”
While the push did not come to fruition, having inexplicably failed in committee in Tallahassee, it positioned the incorporation effort for what likely is another attempt in the coming years.
Davidson was chairman of Save Siesta Key’s first year, replaced by Tim Hensey who he helped with the transition while Davidson remained on the group’s board despite some developing health challenges.
“John was always there for Save Siesta Key, always there for me,” Hensey said. “For Save Siesta Key, he had an unwavering focus.”
The group’s meetings first were held in Davidson’s office behind the Southbridge Mall where his south store resided and, as things progressed, often moved inside his beachfront Sanderling Club home..
“We started meeting with influential politicians, and he opened up his home to them,” Hensey said.
And Davidson’s impact on Hensey was profound, beyond those incorporation efforts.
“It was an absolute honor and privilege to get to know him as a person. He was absolutely a class act,” Hensey said.
Meanwhile, as the final Davidson business signs come down, the name remains cemented in Siesta Key history probably like none other and likely will transcend time. The 65 years of business success and community involvement seems like the tip of the iceberg as far as John Davidson’s legacy is concerned.
“My father was very humble. He was always just our dad — growing up on Siesta Key as a Davidson,” Munroe said. “As I grew up, I discovered how much of an impact he made in our community.
I am so proud of my dad in every way.”

Davidson relaxing at home. (file photo)
John Morton
Author: John Morton

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