Anne Davis has been a quiet force in Nashville for a long time. She continues to champion the causes she is passionate about—education reform, parks and green spaces, and the campaign to get the citizens of Nashville to exercise more and get fit. While it is not her nature to be in the spotlight, Anne understands how important her role is as First Lady of Nashville. And, anyone who worked on Mayor Karl Dean’s campaigns knows that Anne Davis was a force to be reckoned with when it came to winning the race. Ever stylish in her pearls and Karl Dean t-shirt, Anne was seen on Nashville’s street corners, waving his signs to get out the vote.
Anne recently accepted the position to head the office of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Nashville, a not-for-profit organization that works to advocate for quality of life issues. It is with great pleasure we introduce Anne Davis to our readers.
Please give us a brief intro of what you have done in the past (career) and what you are currently doing.
As of last October, I am the managing attorney for the Tennessee office of Southern Environmental Law Center, a 25 year old nonprofit law firm with 50 attorneys across 6 southern states. Before that, for the last 10 years, I taught a first-year law class at Vanderbilt Law School in legal writing. And before that, I practiced law at Neal & Harwell for 15 years, doing general litigation and white collar criminal litigation, and at Bass, Berry & Sims for 4 years right after law school and my clerkship.
We also have three children, Rascoe, 24, now teaching with Teach for America in Memphis, and Frances, 18, a senior at Harpeth Hall, and Wallen, a sophomore at Harpeth Hall.
You are increasingly becoming a rarity, since you were actually born in Nashville. What positive changes have you seen in Nashville over the years?
The increase in diversity is phenomenal…and it makes Nashville such a more interesting place to live. We have incredible restaurants. When I was growing up, there was only one pizza place, and Asian or Mexican food was hard to find, if not nonexistent. Of course, the cultural opportunities are much greater with the Frist, the expanded County Music Hall of Fame, the Adventure Science Center…I could go on. Professional sports are a plus -Titans, Predators, Sounds. And the Greenways are an incredible resource, too.
You serve an important role as First Lady of Nashville. What are some causes that you are passionate about and why?
I am passionate about the environment. We need to embrace a culture that recognizes our responsibility for caring for this beautiful part of Tennessee. I also love our parks and greenways…how great to be able to ride a bike (or walk, but it would take a long time) from Percy Priest Dam to Warner Park! I share Karl’s passion for our public schools and all the organizations that are working to promote education, like Martha O’ Bryan Center and McNeilly Center. It is truly our future that is at stake.
When you were a law professor at Vanderbilt, how would your students describe you?
Well, I had a great dinner party at my house every semester for them, so I guess they would say I was a good cook or threw a nice party! But seriously, I hope they would say that I was fair and impartial, that I was effective and helpful, and that I wanted to do whatever I could to make them the best lawyers they could be.
Do you have a mentor who has influenced your career or personal life?
I looked up to and was inspired by my mom and my grandmother, both of whom were very strong women who faced every challenge head on. Even though they grew up in a very different world, I could not have had better role models. My grandmother was born in 1893, who, as a widow supported her family through the Depression, survived a number of personal tragedies, and lived a very active life until 1999. My mother was born in 1932 and chose one of the only available professions for women, teaching. She was a beloved teacher. She survived many hardships and was also the most generous person I have ever known.
You were selected to open the office for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Nashville. Can you tell us why you chose this job and explain its importance to our community?
I have had an interest in environmental law since law school. Most recently, after Karl was elected as mayor, I chaired a task force on environmental sustainability and then served on the Green Ribbon Committee. When I learned that SELC was opening an office in Tennessee, it seemed to be a perfect opportunity for me to marry my passion for the environment with my legal skills and my knowledge of the environmental community here. Also, with our second child about to go to college, it seemed a perfect time for me to take on a more intense career (something I have missed since I stopped practicing law). The work SELC does is remarkable and consequential, and the lawyers there are as talented and effective as any I have ever known. Simply put, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.
SELC will bring valuable resources to nonprofit environmental organizations in our state and will improve our ability to advocate for important quality of life issues. We represent nonprofit organizations, ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics, challenging EPA’s rules on mercury emissions because of the impacts on children’s health, to Ducks Unlimited, advocating to preserve our wetlands. While SELC has been doing work here for years, many times behind the scene, having an office here will enable us to make much more of a difference.
Best advice given to you?
Believe in yourself and have a “can do” attitude. Also, be happy with the daily pleasures in life…a great latte, a beautiful sunrise, a crackling fire, a long, hot shower, etc.
We understand cooking is one of your many passions. If you were to prepare a special meal, what would you serve?
I do have a passion for cooking, and it is something my daughters and I often do together. Because I spent the summer after I graduated from law school at The Cordon Bleu in Paris, I especially love French cooking (although sometimes I do try to lighten it up). My new favorite dish is mussels Dijonnaise, so I might serve that to start, followed by steak Diane, some roasted asparagus and some cheese grits (just to throw a little something Southern in there). Peanut M&M’s work if f I don’t have time to make dessert – everyone loves them.
What do you do to relax with your family?
We eat out together, we have family backgammon tournaments…but I have to admit, we also have certain TV shows we all like. Right now it’s How I met Your Mother and The Colbert Report, and nights when we are all at home, we all snuggle in on the sofas in our den and watch.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Nashville?
That is a hard question because there are so many great ones. We love our old favorites, like Jimmy Kelley’s, Sunset Grill or the Boundry, but we also enjoy trying some of the new restaurants like Germantown East and Bella Napoli. You can’t go wrong with J. Alexander’s, either!
When it comes to vacation, where do you like to go?
We like active vacations. Last summer Karl and I biked from Prague to Vienna – it was fabulous. Our whole family skied together this winter, and it was exhausting and relaxing at the same time. We also love to explore cities, checking out museums, historical sites, and great restaurants.
Is there a Nashville event you are most looking forward to this spring?
Our middle daughter graduates from high school this spring, and like any proud parents we are most looking forward to celebrating her graduation.
What is one must-have piece of fashion you are looking to add to your wardrobe this season?
Well, I will have to hope my friend, Rita Johnson, at Jamie will tell me that (or even better, will tell my husband, who is a great gift giver).
What books are on your bedside table?
I am reading the The Marriage Plot, and am also in the middle of The Litigators by John Grisham and That Used to be Us by Thomas Friedman.
Any irrational or rational fears?
Nothing irrational, but I am sure I have all the rational fears that any of us have.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding family, friends or God).
- My dogs (Dizzy, Lucky, and Manny)
- My daily walks in Percy Warner Park with friends
- A good glass of wine at the end of the day
Thank you, Anne! Special thanks to Ashley Hylbert and her gorgeous pictures of Anne featured here today. To see Ashley’s blog post about this shoot, click here.