Terry Davies stands before a mural depicting St. George slaying a dragon, a painting he and his wife, Penny Davies, commissioned in honor of their 1980s win over City Hall to save The Earthling Bookshop’s downtown corner from a mall. | Credit: Courtesy

Terry Davies: 1934-2019

Santa Barbara has always beckoned the fortune seekers and creative spirits, those who enjoy beautiful surroundings and even better weather. So it was that that Terry Davies and his young family moved to Santa Barbara after the East Coast’s Great Blizzard of 1966. Their harrowing experience with frozen pipes and no electricity or phone service in their family home while Terry determinedly fought the elements to make his way home on a snowed-out highway was the impetus for the move to California’s warmer climes and the promise of new opportunities.

Davies was an optimist, a survivor, a brave risk-taker, by nature and circumstance. Born in 1934 in London, he managed the childhood challenges of wartime bombings and displacement from home. His search was constant for safety in his city, where he collected and played with shrapnel, and continual struggles in the classroom. Despite those obstacles, he remained positive, figuring that escaping rocket attacks meant he was a lucky guy.

It was his good fortune that his stepfather moved the family to the United States in 1952, seeking the American Dream. Terry enrolled at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, where he worked harder than most students to keep up, although he excelled in science and math. When he met Penelope, his roommate’s beautiful Greek sister, he was smitten with the love of his life. He and Penny eloped on Halloween 1958, beginning a partnership of epic proportions.

In Plainfield, NJ, Boston, MA, and Rochester, NY, they settled into the life that would define them. Working hard, Penny as a teacher and Terry as an engineer, they joyously welcomed their three children — Phillip, Adam, and Thalia — exploring the natural world, fixing up and renovating each successive house into a comfortable home, sharing their good fortune with family and friends.

Escaping the frozen east, Terry took a job in 1966 with EG&G in Santa Barbara, where the couple established solid roots in the community that remain to this day.

Photo: Kathy Poulos Gregory

In 1969, Terry joined Pearl Chase in her last great community preservation effort. He helped initiate a lawsuit against the city to prevent the construction of two nine-story condo towers on the site that is now Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. In her recent history of Santa Barbara, former mayor Sheila Lodge wrote, “If the suit hadn’t been filed and won, it is likely many more such projects as El Mirasol would have been built, and Santa Barbara would have been quite a different place.”

The Davieses’ lives were devastated in 1974 with the drowning accident of their beloved son Adam. But, with characteristic resilience, they carried on. The family lovingly embraced daughter Dorien, born on Christmas Day 1975. During this time of family tragedy and triumph, Terry was determined to keep the family together, moving forward. As he noted, “Adam’s loss taught us many things. Love can bring great pain. Each day is a gift not to be wasted.”

Terry continued his avocation of fixing up old houses. He became involved in local politics and supported Penny in her newly acquired vocation, The Earthling Bookshop, purchased shortly before the loss of their son.

In its various locations, The Earthling grew to become a cherished community landmark and cultural center of downtown Santa Barbara. If Penny was its heart and soul, Terry was the business and brawn of the beloved institution — working as an electro-optical engineer by day, Mr. Fix-It at night. Eventually, he took an early retirement and focused on the bookshop full-time.

The bookshop was a book lover’s dream with its cozy fireplace, welcoming café, thoughtful selection of literature, knowledgeable staff, full schedule of activities, annual book and author fair, and appearances by famous authors, including Ray Bradbury, Charles Schultz, Ann Rice, and Barbara Kingsolver. Local authors, too, found a home at The Earthling and were welcomed and promoted with special windows and shelves dedicated to supporting Santa Barbara’s own.

When the national bookstore wars came to Santa Barbara, The Earthling was targeted by the major chains, Barnes & Noble and Borders. The mega-stores copied the décor and amenities, and they offered discounts the mom-and-pop could not. Eventually, The Earthling surrendered to the dictates of the marketplace. But it lives on in Santa Barbarans who remember the literary heartbeat of downtown. A piece of it dwells at Santa Barbara High School: The store’s colorful mural created by Barnaby Conrad depicting literary figures was donated to the high school library, where it inspires students to this day. Other murals found a home on the walls of the Granada Garage.

Beyond the legendary bookshop, there is much about Santa Barbara that is the way it is because of Terry Davies’s love for this place and the time and talent he invested in it.

In the mid-1980s, the City Redevelopment Agency planned to develop a mall anchored with a Bullocks department store; it would have required the demolition of The Earthling’s home: the building at the corner of State and Victoria Street. The Davieses gathered signatures for a ballot measure urging voters to vote “no” on Measure D. The measure was defeated at the polls; the bookshop was saved; the city looked elsewhere to create its mall. The couple commissioned a mural of St. George slaying the dragon to commemorate the victory.

In 1988, Terry ran for mayor of Santa Barbara on a platform of support for small businesses. He was narrowly defeated by incumbent mayor Lodge in a campaign notable for its civility on both sides.

Of the 10 old houses Terry restored in this town, it was the stately Eastlake residence on a quarter acre of Islay Street that stood out. He transformed the rundown former boarding house into a standout family home situated at the end of a long driveway nestled among the trees. The expansive property was filled with fruit trees. Its stone fireplace and magical treehouse were the sites of innumerable memorable gatherings. Like so much of Santa Barbara, that grandly appointed home was demolished to make way for a modern, supersized residence that now stands just steps from the sidewalk.

Terry recently came to clarity about his difficulties in school. It was dyslexia, he discovered, revealing both pain and pride in the late-in-life understanding. It explained the dichotomy of an accomplished engineer’s lifelong struggles with the written word. He didn’t complain about it; he was grateful for the insights.

Throughout the high points and low ones, Terry maintained his resilience and absolute decency. He sang in the choir at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church; he supported local schools; he recently designed and built a little free library; he listened to children and treated them with great respect. Actually, he treated everyone with great respect.

Since his passing on December 6 in Brevard, NC, his home for the past decade, more than one friend has called him a prince of a man. Although he was from humble beginnings, far from royalty, it’s an apt description. He was striking, with his penchant for dressing properly in a clean, starched shirt every day; his formality of speech lightly tinged with his dignified British accent; a kind word for everyone; his love of the great outdoors, especially skiing and hiking; his ability to light up a room with his quiet presence and everlasting gratitude for each moment of his wonderful life. If you feel so moved, please plant a tree in memory of Terry Davies to continue to beautify and energize Santa Barbara, the place he loved so very much.

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