Carol Davis was born in Los Angeles on June 17, 1944 and settled into the loving arms of Ray and Lorene Davis. She passed away quietly at home on March 13, 2021 in the care of her loving children.
A lively child and a curious teen, Carol’s parents had religion and music in abundance, so she grew playing piano and singing for the choir and church gatherings.
When Aunt Martha, a socialite from Florida with a literary bent, came to visit she brought trunks of dress-up clothes, hats, shoes, a Ouji board and vitamins. The seeds of destiny are born in the child. If there is a thru line to this special life, it is music. If there is a subtext, it is food. If there is a purpose, it is the happiness and welfare of children.
In 1962, Carol graduated high school and moved to Los Angeles to attend a Southern Baptist Bible College. While there, she realized she could also put her choir-trained voice to use in gay bars and brothels. Her repertoire expanded with her horizons.
Nobody quite remembers exactly when she appeared in Arcata. Sometime in the early mid sixties, she left LA to take a job as a stage manager in Ashland, Oregon.
The fog was heavy in the trees and Humboldt was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. Arcata had a little college with a theater department and when she went to see about it, they were doing Theater of the Absurd.
She passed up the job and stayed, studied under a fabulous theater faculty and with student actors and technicians pushing the envelope of the theatrical and the political, It was a heady time to be engaged in the arts.
In 1968 she and scene designing grad student David Brune married out at Rothrock’s with an after party held at the Pin Room which was always tolerant of hippies.
The couple set off to Purdue in Indiana then to New Orleans following David’s work, of course, he being the one with the graduate degree. New Orleans suited Carol; she bore two swell babies there, explored its music and food scenes, and continued to return whenever possible.
Carol came back to Arcata without David but with two little ones: Catlin, a toddler, and Stuart, a babe in arms. They lived in a little apartment at Rothrock’s at first until she got work and on her feet when they moved to a little duplex on Grotzman Lane.
The kids went to Centering School and then to St Mary’s for some discipline and the simplicity of the uniform. All children took to Carol.
She was an early cocktail waitress at the Jambalaya and often burst into a song or two after hours to inspire the clean up.
She worked for a time a Plaza Design, pitched in at the Minor Theater Corp and took other jobs that were like mini play productions – a project to be organized, accomplished and put away. She was utterly reliable and never left a mess behind.
Then she met Pat Conlin, her Irishman, and he liked her, and the kids liked him, so they became a family, sealed the match in 1977 at the Vet’s Hall, and what a party that was – the music, the food, the universal delight.
It was time for steady regular work, and Carol hired on with the Child Care Council where she applied her organizational talents to the well-being of children.
Starting in the resource unit, supporting the work of providers in the field, she later moved on to the abuse prevention unit, and worked directly with families. She was a dedicated, hard-working advocate for families and their kids, finding resources and options, being present in that way she had, so you knew she had all her attention directed at your problem.
This work required great tenacity and heart. Carol had plenty of both. Co-workers from this time recall her generosity and warmth, the great food and fun which made their difficult work more manageable, but also her insistent curiosity and willingness to ask the tough questions, while holding everyone to an ethical client focus.
All through these decades they catered gatherings large and small for all manner of group events. The non-profit fundraising world relied on her good food prepared with little fuss, on time and at reasonable cost. She did much of the work from home, but could command any kitchen, keeping the volunteer help happily doing her bidding. She fed children at summer camps, worked memorials and reunions, workshops and anniversary parties. There was no job of work that offended her, and she never needed to advertise.
In about 1980 the Davis-Conlins bought a piece of land up above West End and started building a house. And what a house; it grew and evolved, opened up and out into garden and forest. Catlin remembers coming home late one night to find Pat with saws out, cutting in a new emergency window. Carol’s design sense was spot-on and her working man indefatigable.
From this power center Carol began to research her origins and the practicality of opening a food business down town. The birth family quest was successful, and she discovered, after years of searching, the slew of family she always expected to find.
Sister Sue became especially close. This work answered lots of nagging questions and brought new avenues of affection to her. And by the end she knew a great deal, both good and bad, about adoption law.
The Pacific Rim Noodle House opened on I street between 10th and 11th and for a decade cooked up really good affordable take-out food, and employed and trained a steady stream of young foodies. Everyone hoped new owners would keep it going, but without Carol’s energy and connections, it was lost to food history.
In retirement, she still entertained and liked nothing so much as keeping the pot stirred and the conversation flowing. A great hostess is having a great time, and nobody had more fun than Carol. It radiated from her and was irresistible.
Pat died in 2016 and his absence was hard for her to carry, but she did. She bought a new hat and walked to town for some shopping and to meet and greet her many friends. When she couldn’t drive safely, she stopped, and gradually her world grew close around her. Her memories like her voice remained strong.
Even as she lay dying (did you catch that, Aunt Martha?) those qualities of her character – curiosity, warmth, directness – remained. If she was vague it was only about things that didn’t matter. If frustrated, it resolved into acceptance.
When visited in her dying bed by a musician friend, she sang with him – Swing Low and If I Only Had a Heart and Summertime. He went to cheer her and she made him glad.
To quote the poet: “Our grand orchestra of liberation has dwindled to a funeral march, but with Sister Carol’s voice and a tambourine gone ahead of us, wherever we’re going, they’ll know some serious jubilation is coming.”
Sometimes a person comes to a town with no agenda, just a good heart and a pocketful of talents, and she makes the place different by her steady presence among us. Carol was like the beating heart of Arcata for about 50 years. This was her great gift to our time in our town. And the place is better for it.
Catlin and Stu hope to be able to celebrate Carol’s birthday in June with her friends and good food and music. We’ll let you know what to bring.