June 2010 Bar Bulletin
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June 2010 Bar Bulletin

Outstanding Lawyer: John M. Davis

By Stew Cogan


John Davis’s life and career have been built on his uncompromising dedication to three principles: ability, integrity and service. His personal and professional successes are directly attributable to these principles and a life philosophy centered on service to others.

A talented and visionary attorney, he altered the legal landscape in Seattle, the state of Washington and the nation. The firm he co-founded, Davis Wright Tremaine, is currently listed among the nation’s top 100 law firms and has offices in eight U.S. cities. It was the first U.S. law firm to establish an office in Shanghai, China, a testament to its growing international influence and John’s broad worldview.

After graduating from the University of Washington School of Law in 1940, where he was Order of the Coif, student body president and Law Review comment editor, John got a job at a local law firm. He may have had a job, but he had no desk, only a spot at a table in the library.

When the United States entered World War II, John volunteered for Naval Intelligence, but was rejected because of imperfect eyesight. To contribute to the war effort, he divided his time between practicing law and working at the Lake Washington Shipyards in Kirkland. After the war ended, John founded his own firm.

Throughout the course of his 60-year career, he distinguished himself as an outstanding lawyer, particularly in banking law. He served as counsel to the state banking association for 36 years and served on the board of one of the state’s largest banks for 20 years.

For six decades, John’s actions have demonstrated how strongly he believes in community service. Through John’s more than 30 years of service to the Pacific Science Center (including 20 years as a board member and service as both president and chair), Seattle became home to an internationally recognized science education facility.

An outdoor enthusiast who has climbed Mt. Rainier six times, John was one of the founders of the Mountaineers’ Foundation and he served as president and as a member for more than 40 years. John also shared his time and counsel for 27 years as a board member of Virginia Mason Medical Center (including two years as president), for 15 years as a trustee of Whitman College (including three as chair), for 10 years as a member of the Mercer Island School Board (including two as president), for seven years as a board member of Blue Cross of Washington and Alaska, and for more than 55 years as a trustee of the Diabetic Trust Fund.

John also served the legal community through his work with the KCBA, the WSBA and the ABA, including his service as president of the KCBA exactly 50 years ago.

An Eagle Scout at age 13, John has lived a life true to the Boy Scout Oath that he took more than 83 years ago and that was prominently displayed in his office:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Throughout his life, John has believed “the work is always better than the rewards.” He has viewed his roles as an attorney, a community leader, an educator, a mentor and a father as opportunities to serve and contribute to the betterment of humankind. He has embraced the intellectual challenge, hard work and personal commitment each role demanded of him and sought nothing in return. He is, as people who know him would attest, a very humble and special man.

John recently celebrated his 96th birthday with his law firm colleagues. Unfortunately, at the end of December 2009, John lost the love of his life, Ruth VanArsdale Davis. They were married for 70 years and have six children.


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