Davidson: Not the retiring type

`Quiet` talent takes over at chamber of commerce

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2000

Rumors of George Davidson's retirement turn out to be greatly exaggerated.

Davidson is still nominally involved in the engineering firm he started 25 years ago. He had seemingly ended a long stint in the public eye that included heading up the Alaska Marine Highway System and serving three terms on the Juneau Assembly, including two as deputy mayor.

This month, he's back as director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, a position he hopes to use to forge connections throughout Southeast and into the Yukon.

``I've always said, as long as I have my health, I want to continue to be involved in the community,'' said Davidson, 64. ``Then I had some encouragement from some friends.'' He quickly added, with a laugh, ``I think they were friends.''

Chamber board member John Sandor said Davidson has the ability to bring people together for common goals.

``I really am quite enthusiastic about George Davidson's taking on the executive directorship of the chamber. He really didn't have to do that,'' Sandor said. ``He's kind of a quiet guy, but is very effective. He's not a loudmouth about things at all. He's just a quiet, talented, committed business person.''

Davidson, who succeeds Patty Ann Polley, recently attended a training program in Tucson, Ariz., sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He learned, among other things, that he's an introvert, although the official diagnosis didn't surprise him any.

Regularly, ``I have to go off and be alone for a while,'' he said. After his wife, Georgene, goes to sleep, he often turns off the lights, puts on Bach and organizes his thoughts.

While extroverts get their energy through interaction with other people, introverts rely on their own minds for inspiration, he said. So he sees one of his main tasks as chamber director to encourage the membership to carry out much of the group's mission.

``If we're only going to go as far as those things I'm going to get involved with, we're not going to go very far,'' he said.

Considering Davidson's history, though, that might be an understatement.

A native of the Cleveland area, Davidson came to Juneau in 1963 as a bridge design engineer for the state Department of Transportation. In a little more than a year, however, he became the city engineer and director of public works.

Davidson moved on to a brief stint as a state sanitary engineer, developing the first water-pollution control program for Alaska, before going into business as an engineering consultant.

After eight years, during which time his initial business was bought out by a California firm, he started a new company, EMPS Engineering, in 1975.

In the 1980s, he re-entered public life in a big way, winning a seat on the assembly and becoming director of the ferry system, a $67 million annual operation.

Jamie Parsons, who was an assembly member and mayor during Davidson's stint, recalls him as a thoughtful presence.

``He was a great listener and was a voice of reason, and could bring folks together for a solution,'' Parsons said. ``He was very analytical. ... He always took an interest in contracts, that they were done properly. He was kind of the magnet that people would go to if there were problems with building permits, for advice.''

Davidson, a Republican, entered politics in 1994, seeking a seat in the state House of Representatives.

Although initially disappointed by losing to Caren Robinson, he said watching ``Gavel to Gavel'' coverage of the Legislature on television in subsequent years made him feel relieved he wasn't involved.

The Davidsons own a cabin near Glenallen and some undeveloped property in Haines, but he remains firmly rooted in Juneau.

Davidson does want to broaden the definition of community, however. As chamber director, he wants to reinstitute the regular meetings of the Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Whitehorse chambers of commerce that were discontinued several years ago.

``We operate better if we operate together,'' he said.

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