Santa Barbara lost one of its shining lights on Tuesday night, July 7, when Debby Davison lost her long, valiant battle with cancer. Davison was the face of Santa Barbara’s television station KEYT for nearly two decades, and she will long be remembered for her professionalism, elegance, and grace under pressure.
Debby was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1950. She got her start in the news business in Florida, eventually heading west to become the first co-anchor for the legendary Hal Fishman in Los Angeles at KTLA. She then worked in Tucson but was recruited by KEYT station owner Bob Smith to come to Santa Barbara. Here she worked as a main anchor for 16 years, retiring in 2006.
Her first big news story broke about two weeks after she arrived in Santa Barbara, the 1990 Paint Fire. Her calm on-air presence during those tragic hours reassured Santa Barbarans and established an immediate confidence in KEYT’s broadcast. She mentored many of the people she worked with over the years, making them better newspeople and often sending them on to bigger markets. And, most of all, viewers trusted and respected her.
During her tenure at KEYT, Debby was a faithful annual cohost for the station’s Unity Telethon, which raised millions of dollars for families struggling financially in our community. Her commitment also extended to the annual Children’s Miracle Network Telethon, and she was the popular host of the long-running Cottage Hospital HealthLife television series, which provided education and practical information about health and wellness to the community.
She was long involved with the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (CADA). She not only was a member of its board but also went on several climbs for the Summit for Danny fundraiser. She hiked and climbed in the Arctic and Ecuador. Last year, in between chemotherapy sessions, she traveled to New Zealand for a 50-mile trek. She even found time to upload pictures during that trip so that folks back home could live the journey vicariously. The money raised was used to fund programs for troubled teens.
Debby was an avid supporter of CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) and cohosted its annual celebrity author’s luncheon. Her community spirit kept her involved with many other organizations, including the Dream Foundation.
In her spare time she was a keen athlete, and she began competing in triathlons at the age of 50. Debby placed first in her age group three years in a row. Her breast cancer diagnosis didn’t slow her down, either. Despite the side effects from chemotherapy, which forced her to have both hips replaced, she continued to compete. Sunday mornings you would find Debby riding her bicycle with longtime friend Anne Towbes. Other days, she’d be swimming laps at the Coral Casino. And she was often spotted walking her dog, Darby, with friends at the beach. She was always on the go.
The public Debby was precocious, witty, beautiful, and talented. The private Debby was all that and more. She was a fantastic friend (even when she disagreed with you), adventurous, fun-focused, and loving.
Debby was a gourmet cook, tireless hostess, and a talented seamstress. She had an eye for interior decorating. She and her husband, Dennis, built or remodeled several homes both in Santa Barbara and Utah. When they were done, they were Architectural Digest worthy.
Debby loved puzzles and games, often spending afternoons playing bridge or mahjong with her friends. She loved having conversations of substance, often following one of the famously delicious dinners she’d cooked for friends.
Debby is survived by her loving and supportive family: her husband, Dr. Dennis B. Phelps; her sisters, Linda Goodwin and Mary Matas; and her sons, Eric and Scott Davison, and their wives, Stacy Davison and Denise Britton.
We are all richer having had her in our lives, whether seeing her on television or enjoying her company in person. She was one of a kind. Perhaps her greatest impact was the selfless support of the community she loved. She gave back continuously, never expecting anything in return, just hoping to help make Santa Barbara a better place.
The family invites the public to a special tribute to Debby Davison at the kickoff of Carpinteria’s Relay For Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society. The remembrance begins 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 18, at Aliso Elementary School, 4545 Carpinteria Avenue. For any questions regarding the event, please contact Alexandra Heath at the American Cancer Society: (805) 364-3232.