John B. Davis, savior of schools and arts organizations, dies

John B. Davis, an educator known for his ability to save struggling schools and arts organizations, died Tuesday from a rare brain disease. He was 89.

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John B. Davis

Photo courtesy of Macalester College

MPR’s Curtis Gilbert looked back on Davis’ career, which in retrospect appears almost superhuman:

Davis was developing a reputation as someone who could turn around the most troubled of institutions. So in 1984, when the founder of the Children’s Theater Company was charged with sexually abusing three students, the theater asked Davis to take over. At the time, Davis vowed the theater would survive with the help of the community.

“Parents, members of the board of directors and friends of the theater have all rallied and have assured that when the situation has cleared, that great theater and school shall be preserved. And I shall be one of the instruments working to that end,” Davis told MPR at the time.

Davis went on to help Minnesota State University-Mankato improve relations between faculty and the administration. He helped the Minneapolis College of Art and Design through a difficult stretch and came to the rescue of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, too. In 1993, when the Minneapolis School Board suspended its superintendent, they called Davis back to the job until a permanent replacement could be found. He even served as chairman of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve during the 1980s.

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