Cenla-ian of the Year

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Frances Bolton Davis of Alexandria has been named Cenla-ian of the Year by a panel of community leaders and the executive board of Cenla Focus magazine.  “I was very surprised. It is such a nice compliment, and I feel very honored,” Davis said upon hearing that she was selected for the prestigious award.  The Cenla-ian of the Year award is reserved for the Cenla resident who exemplifies noteworthy leadership qualities and whose works are community standouts.

Davis, a philanthropist and real estate developer, was born and raised in Alexandria. Her family has deep roots in Central Louisiana. Their lineage echoes throughout the region. Bolton Avenue in Alexandria was named after her great-grandfather. Bolton High School was named after her grandfather. The library at Louisiana State University at Alexandria is named for her father.  Davis’ parents, James Calderwood Bolton and Frances Sample Bolton, carried on family traditions of “giving back to the community” and Davis has followed in the philanthropic footsteps of her parents.

Davis, along with other family members, donated her grandparents’ former house to the city of Alexandria in 1979. The home, which dates back to the late 1890s, has become the River Oaks Square Arts Center. The home, a fine example of Queen Anne Revival architecture, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, River Oaks houses art studios and showcases the work of its resident artists. Davis, who laughingly says she “plays at being an artist” with her watercolor paintings, admits to always having an appreciation for the arts.

While attending Bolton High School, Davis served as the editor for The Bruin, the high school’s yearbook. In addition, she served as a band booster and marched with the band at the football games.  Davis recalls her high school years as a time of high patriotism.  “It was during World War II, and I remember us being involved in scrap drives and other war effort things,” Davis recalls with a smile.

After high school graduation, Davis attended Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. During her college years, she lived on campus and served as the president of her sorority.  She earned her bachelor of arts’ degree in History and Economics in 1949. Her first job was as a bookkeeper at Rapides Bank and Trust Company on 2nd Street in Alexandria, in a limestone building which is now the Alexandria Museum of Art. Her grandfather started Rapides Bank and Trust and served as its president until his death in 1912.  “There were not any computers then, so I did all the bookkeeping by hand,” Davis recalls about her stint working at the bank from 1949 to 1952.

Shortly after she started working at the bank, Davis met the man she would come to marry.  “I was shopping for a dress at Weiss and Goldring when Harry Silver came up and told me about a friend of his he had gone golfing with. He told me I ought to meet him, so I told him, ‘Introduce us,’” Davis recalls with a laugh.

That man was Dr. Paul McMillian Davis, Jr., an orthopedic surgeon who had served as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Europe during World War II. After the war, he established a practice in Alexandria. The two dated for about a year and a half, and were married in 1951. After just two months of marriage, Davis’s husband was called back up for military duty. He was sent to Osaka, Japan, which was still occupied by allied forces including the United States after WWII. Eventually, Davis got to join her husband in Japan.  “We were in Japan for about 1 and a half years. We rented a house that was a former officer’s house and borrowed furniture. We later moved to military quarters,” Davis says, adding she made friendships in Japan that she still maintains today.

In 1953, the couple was able to move back home to Alexandria. “Mac,” as her husband was called, resumed his orthopedic surgery practice, and Fran became an active community volunteer. As president of the Alexandria Junior League in 1957, Davis became involved with raising funds for a new YWCA building in Alexandria.  “I’ve been raising funds ever since,” Davis notes, adding that helping others or improving her community was something her family taught her at an early age.

In 1988, Davis, the former president of the Louisiana State University at Alexandria Foundation, established the Bolton Award. It is presented annually to an outstanding faculty member and is considered LSUA’s highest faculty honor. The recipient receives a plaque and a cash award.  In 1959, Davis served as president of the Rapides Parish Medical Alliance. Her community involvement is vast and diverse. She has served on the board of the Friendship House, a day care for the elderly, and has served in a variety of positions on the board of First United Methodist Church in Alexandria. In addition to serving on the board of Rapides Bank and Trust Company from 1977 to 1995, Davis served on the board of the First Commerce Corporation in New Orleans from 1985 to 1995. Her business leadership roles provided her with a firm foundation as she served on the board of the United Way of Central Louisiana, the Central Louisiana Community Foundation, the Louisiana Methodist Foundation, Central Louisiana Arts Council and on the board of the River Oaks Square Art Center.

River Oaks Square Arts Center

For her outstanding contributions to her community and to Central Louisiana, Davis has been honored with too many accolades to mention completely; but to name a few, in 2008, she was named Patron of the Year with the Governor’s Arts Award. In 1998, Davis was presented the LSUA’s Distinguished Service Award for her volunteerism. Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport awarded Davis an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 1987.

Davis and her husband had three children: Dr. Paul M. Davis III, who is an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, Georgia; Frances Sentell Davis, who owns and operates a boutique in Raleigh, N.C., and James Bolton Davis, who resides in Alexandria. Having the family spread across multiple states was no challenge for the couple as they both loved to travel.  “My husband and I would say we were members of the 7 Continent Club since we traveled to all seven continents. The trip I remember the most was our trip to Antarctica,” Davis adds.

Since 1974, Davis has been self-employed through several investment ventures. But by 1990, both she and her husband decided to enter into the real estate business. They bought 936 acres and established “The Lakes District,” a multi-phase development located off of Highway 28 West in Alexandria. Since 1999, Davis has served as the manager of the Lakes District Subdivision. Sadly, Fran would lose “Mac” in 2007. But through it all, at 81 years old, Davis says she is staying as busy as ever and attributes her good health to eating right and a daily swim.

She currently serves on the board of the Rapides Symphony Orchestra, LSUA Foundation Board, the Alexandria Museum of Art and on the Board of Managers of the LSUA-Alexandria Museum of Art. When she is not serving as a volunteer or at a fundraising event for a special project, Davis says she enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.  “I won’t ever stop giving back. It’s in my blood. I was raised with the knowledge of what my family and daddy did for the community. I believe in ‘giving back,’” Davis explains with a smile.

For her spirit of volunteerism and her significant contributions to the community, the staff of the Cenla Focus gratefully recognizes Frances Bolton Davis as 2010 Cenla-ian of the Year.