Evelyn Y. Davis's Gravestone
A memorial to a shareholder activist feared by CEOs around the United States.
Near the front gates of Rock Creek Cemetery (one of Washington D.C.’s oldest cemeteries, founded in 1719) you can find the grave of Evelyn Y. Davis. An eight-foot pink granite tombstone, flanked by two smaller structures, creates a memorial commemorating the notorious Holocaust-survivor-turned-corporate-gadfly.
Davis was born in Amsterdam in 1929 to a wealthy family. Both her parents had Jewish ancestry. When she was 13, she and her family were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp, where they remained until they were liberated by Russian troops in 1945. Davis moved to the United States with her father, who ultimately gave her her start in corporate shareholding.
She made a name for herself as a shareholder activist hell-bent on rattling top CEOs until they bent to her whim. CEOs treated her with a blend of disdain, caution, and a touch of respect. She held shares in nearly 80 industries and was well-known for her unapologetically brash antics. Though she was supposedly determined to level the playing field among shareholders and corporate executives, she was also largely motivated by her own self-indulgent quest for fame and fortune.
Some shareholder activists condemned Davis’ actions and viewed her outlandish persona as detrimental to their common cause. She commented about CEO’s physical appearances, and wasn’t shy about remarking when someone needed to lose weight or complementing the attractiveness of men she fancied. She was also known to cause scenes at some shareholder meetings. In one, she stripped down to a bathing suit and paraded around the room with an American flag. She showed up to another wearing hotpants.
Davis also created a publication called HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS in 1965. She charged nearly $500 per subscription and marketed the newsletter to CEOs, billing it as an insider scoop. But in reality, the oddly-punctuated publication was filled with pictures of her with high-stake power players, bits of gossip, some obscure travel advice, and weird tidbits about her personal life.
Davis was, admittedly, a hard-to-please woman. She often refused to deal with anyone who wasn’t the CEO, viewing any subordinate company executives as beneath her. She also took issue with women in power. According to an article in Vanity Fair, in one issue of HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS, Davis wrote about a “FEMALE who came from the GTE side of the company” who was “JEALOUS of a woman who is FAMOUS and GLAMOROUS, unlike herself.”
The notorious gadfly decided to erect her own postmortem monument in 1981 to celebrate her successes. She used the tombstone to list her resume, divorces (there are four, two of which were etched in at later dates), and the fact that she never had children. One of the accompanying stones contains a quote that clearly sums up her philosophy on life: “Power is greater than love, and I did not get where I am by standing in line nor by being shy.”
One of her ex-husbands is buried at the site beneath a nearby grave. The only accomplishment listed on his gravestone is that he was one of Davis’ former husbands.
Update: Davis died November 4, 2018, in Washington, DC.
Know Before You Go
Rock Creek Cemetery is large but you can find the tombstones at the front entrance. While you're here you can also check out the graves of Upton Sinclair and the Adams Memorial.
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