[This is the fifth in a series of articles on Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center benefactor Bernese B. Davis.]
The fourth pillar of the Fort Myers community that influenced Berne Davis’ later philanthropy was none other than BFF Barbara B. Mann.
“I met Barbara Mann when I was still in high school. She was the secretary to the principal. I thought she was the Queen of the May,” Berne says fondly, her eyes twinkling at the memory. “She always loved art and music.”
Barbara and Berne live just two blocks from each other on the river. “We see each other quite a bit,” Berne says, “although not as often as I’d like.”
But she was with Barbara Mann and Caroline Hill having lunch when the threesome decided to sneak a peak inside the federal courthouse building after it had been leased to Jim Griffith and Florida Arts, Inc. It was that spontaneous decision to satisfy her curiosity that moved Berne Davis across that amorphous threshold that separates passing from vested interest. And although her friend had not personally funded the performing arts center that bears her name (the Florida legislature named the center for Barbara in honor of the accomplishments of her son, Senator Frank B. Mann), it no doubt hadn’t escaped Berne’s attention that the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Center was benefiting hundreds of thousands of southwest Florida residents and visitors each year.
“Having no children,” Berne says, giving us rare insight into the heart of a philanthropist, “Sidney thought I should do something constructive. The art center is constructive. What Jim Griffith is doing down there is constructive. It’s wonderful having a building capable of doing all the things he has planned.”
And so, inspired by her husband’s mandate, the examples set by their benefactor, Billie Jewett, and Berne’s mentor, Mina Edison, and wishing to emulate BFF Barbara B. Mann, Berne Davis decided to take advantage of the opportunity the naming program offered her to promote both the visual and performing arts, foster arts education, and honor Sidney’s name in the community he loved so dearly.
Berne would like a slice of that recognition for herself. “There would be nothing nicer than to know that people knew me and loved me for my spirit and my love for life and beauty. Beauty and good taste cost no more, you know,” Berne says sagely.
In 2009, Bernese Josephine Barfield Davis became the first recipient of the Southwest Florida Museum of History Foundation’s History Maker of the Year Award, promptig former mayor Jim Humphrey to say at the time, “I cosider Berne to be the First Lady of Fort Myers.”
Berne Davis. Benefactor of the arts here in southwest Florida.