A Lifetime of Listening – Interview with New Commissioner Terrye Davis

Lucky me! I got to interview Commissioner Terrye Davis for this magazine. I hope you enjoy my conversation with her as much as I did!

Q: Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born?
A: Fukuoka, Japan

Q: So when did you come to the U.S.?
A: I was adopted by a military family. We moved here when I was three; I became a U.S. citizen when I was in the fifth grade.

Q: What’s your first memory of the U.S.?
A: We had a red and green house in Del Rio, Texas. I used to call it the Christmas Tree House.

Q: Do you speak Japanese?
A: A very minimal amount – I’m very proud of my daughter, though, she took Japanese in college, worked in Japan as a schoolteacher and is now a fluent speaker.

Q: Speaking of kids?
A: I have a blended family of 6 kids.

Q: Six! I’m guessing you must have at least one funny story….
A: One of my favorite kid stories is when my youngest son was playing football. He caught a football for a touchdown and was so excited that he ran backwards for a bit while razzing the other team. He then turned around to cover the last bit of distance to a touchdown and ran right into a goal post. It was very funny at the time, and fortunately he wasn’t hurt, but I’m pretty sure there’s at least one life lesson somewhere in this story.

Q: What about you, did you play sports?
A: Actually, I was a decent gymnast – my specialty was the uneven parallel bars.

Q: I’m guessing you watched the Olympics this summer?
A: Oh yes! I was so impressed by Laurie Hernandez. She was so perky and friendly and it always seemed like she was so happy to be there.

Q: You said you “were” a decent gymnast….
A: I gave it up, my mind says I can do it but my body thinks I’m crazy. I’m into lake fishing and gardening now.

Q: Everybody’s got a great fishing story ……?
A: My favorite fishing trip was to Alaska. The scenery is gorgeous – icebergs, incredible wildlife. Plus, it’s also where I caught a King Salmon! Best of all the crew cleaned the salmon and packed it for us so we could enjoy it after we got home.

Q: You sound like someone who loves the outdoors – do you hike?
A: I used to camp and hike. The Marble Mountain wilderness near Oregon was one of my favorite spots. I eventually gave up camping when I figured out if I wanted to go with my husband I would have to pack everything in, use a hole in the ground for the unmentionables in life, drink water from streams that were always a looooong way away from wherever I happened to be and then pack everything out again. I still remember my husband telling me we were going to climb a small hill – it took 4 hours to climb!

Q: I guess I should ask you a bit about your professional life. What was your first job after college?
A: I created and ran the Merced County Small Business Development Center. I later opened the Solano College Small Business Center and eventually ran the Solano County Private Industry Council (PIC) Business and Training Program. I loved the fact that people without jobs or hope would come to the PIC program, get the training they needed and could turn their life around.

Q: Sounds like you really enjoyed that work. What led you into law?
A: After working at the Private Industry Council, I went to work at the Omega Boys and Girls’ Club in Vallejo. I loved working with the kids, but always remembered how much I enjoyed Perry Mason (it’s hard not to love a lawyer that always wins and never loses their cool!) that I knew I had to go to law school.

Q: Has the law been as satisfying as you expected?
A: I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of different areas and have always found it rewarding. In the end, it always comes back to listening to people, which is something I find fascinating.

Q: What do you mean?
A: Well, I did wills, trusts and probate work for a while. My favorite part of the work was listening to people as they talked about their plans. I also worked as a juvenile dependency attorney for three years. I mostly represented parents and helped them try to get back on track. I was also privileged to represent a couple of kids that got adopted. I drive past their home sometimes and I see them outside playing – they look so happy. I always remember them.

Q: I guess being on the bench involves a bit of listening to people as well.
A: I was a full-time pro tem in Solano County for five years and I am very much looking forward to exploring what folks in this county have to teach me.

Q: It sounds like you have had a lifelong commitment to helping others. Do you do any volunteer work?
A: I have spent about 20 years working with youth organizations. Most recently, I have been working with high school students in Solano County through the Willie B. Adkins Project. Every spring we take a group of 50 kids on a school bus for a week to visit colleges. It’s exhausting because we end up staying up all night every night to make sure the kids don’t sneak out – but it’s more than worth it when I see kids that might not have thought of themselves as college material suddenly see that this is a possibility for them. I have one student that I am particularly proud of. She had her heart set on attending Hampton University, a private school in Virginia. As part of Adkins Program she had created a portfolio with her resume, personal statements, statements from community leaders, awards, letters from her school counselor and other materials. She had an interview with the Admissions person at Hampton and after the interview the Admissions person came out and spoke to the whole group saying that she would normally deny admission to someone whose grades were not high enough, but that having spoken to her and seeing her portfolio convinced her to accept our student.

Q: I can’t let you go without asking you to share the best piece of advice you ever received.
A: It was from my dad. He said that you can learn something from everyone, no matter who they are. He was certainly right–and I look forward to continuing my learning with the good folks from Contra Costa.