Until 2 weeks ago, my sister had 2 sisters. An adoring biological one. And a dear friend, Debby Davison, related through love if not genes.
Debby came into Anne’s life in 1990 when Anne’s late husband Bob Smith hired her as an anchor for KEYT, the TV station he operated in Santa Barbara. “Debby lit up the screen for 16 years,” Anne says. A statuesque blonde with marine blue eyes, Debby belied any blonde joke ever told.
She was an amazing cook, often doubling up on crab cakes, Anne’s favorite, to share with her. Twice Anne served as Debby’s sous-chef on a local cooking show. Debby gave my sister cooking lessons. (“Not that they took,” Anne says.)
Debby was a dynamic emcee, coaching Anne in writing and delivering speeches. She was a techie who taught Anne how to use her first iPhone. An event planner who organized a camp-out in the mountains for 10 KEYT staffers. She put up the tent, built the campfire, cooked dinner over the grill. (Anne played the guitar.) Debby was also a seamstress who sewed a set of cocktail napkins for Anne’s bridge group. And a music buff who produced a CD of Anne’s favorite folk songs as a favor for her 60th birthday.
Anne says, “There wasn’t a challenge Debby wouldn’t face and figure out how to accomplish.”
Debby was an imaginative host. Joyce Dudley, Santa Barbara County D.A., attended Debby’s annual Halloween scavenger hunt. “Debby made friends get out of our comfort zones. We did because we didn’t want to disappoint her,” Joyce says. “Debby insisted we wear costumes and run through town charming strangers into helping us. We had more fun than any of us could have imagined.” Guests returned to Debby’s ghoulishly decked-out house to “devour delicious dishes such as eyeballs (olives), brains (pasta), and witches brooms (carrots).” Guests were “always amazed and delighted” by Debby’s creativity.
Debby was an adventurer and an athlete. Right after 9/11, she and Anne flew to South Africa. They also visited Park City and Mt. Rushmore. Even the Cowboy Poetry Festival in Elko, Nevada (along with their husbands and yours truly). “Debby was up for fun, wherever it took her,” Anne says. She climbed mountains in Ecuador, the Arctic and New Zealand and won her flight in 3 triathlons. A fitness buff, Debby biked with Anne on Sundays. They’d ride several miles to neighboring towns and reward themselves with coffee and pastries.
Debby had a spiritual side. She, Anne and 10 other friends formed a spiritual luncheon group, The Angels. (See my Looking for Angels column from 2014). They met monthly at each others’ homes, over 17 years sharing highs and lows and about 200 lunches. Anne calls Debby “our ever-wise philosopher.”
10 years ago, Debby was hit with the one challenge she ultimately couldn’t overcome. Still, she remained so optimistic about surviving breast cancer that she made you believe whatever diet theory she was currently pursuing would be just the thing to heal her. But in the past few months, Anne says, “We stopped biking, started walking, and finally drove to meet our Sunday friends for coffee.”
In the end, my sister says, “Debby was her usual controlled, organized self.” This mother of 2 sons planned her own memorial. Saturday, July 18, Relay for Life, a fund raiser for breast cancer research, was dedicated to Debby and run in Carpenteria, CA, by many of her friends. The next day 125 friends and family members, chosen by Debby, scattered her ashes from a catamaran in the Santa Barbara channel. From the calls and emails Anne received, she says, “We could have filled 10 boats.”
After the boat ride, guests returned to the garden of Debby’s Santa Barbara home. Debby specified the caterer (naturally) and requested The Angels sing a song. They chose “That’s What Friends Are For.” Ever the speaking coach, Debby also wrote Anne’s remarks. Anne read, “…She’s with the angels now and at last pain free.” Inviting guests to share stories, Anne read Debby’s last words: “Debby wanted this to be a celebration. And celebrate we will.”
Debby’s husband Dennis Phelps saved some of his his wife’s ashes. They’ll be interred at the Santa Barbara Cemetery where Anne’s husband Bob is buried. Debby’s grave will be just 40 yards from Bob’s, so she and “our” sister can continue their frequent confabs near the one who introduced them.
Anne received what she considers a “final gift” from Debby 2 weeks before she died. Biking in the Santa Ynez Valley, as she and Debby often did together, Anne texted her dear friend. She was thinking about her with every turn of the pedal, she wrote. She’d dedicate all future bike rides to her.
Debby, who lived larger and brighter in almost 65 years than many do in decades more, called and left a message. Anne says, “In a weak but still upbeat voice, she said, ‘Hello, to you, too. Have fun. Love you.’ It’s a wish and a philosophy I think she meant for all of us.”