On May 27, 2004, the citizens of Leigh were saddened to hear of the death of a much-loved neighbour, 94-year-old Mavis Davidson. Mavis was a pioneer in the fields of mountaineering, exploration and zoological research. She, together with Warkworth’s Lucy Moore, fought her way into a male-dominated world and left a legacy for modern women.
A young Mavis found that office work offered no challenges, so between 1940 and 1950 she attended Victoria University, interrupted by a wartime stint in the army. During those years she joined the Tararua Tramping Club, the Federated Mountain Club and the Wellington Botanical Society. In 1953, spurned by a male-only tramping club attempt at scaling Mount Cook, she led the first all-woman summit team. She made many ascents in the alps with Rod Hewitt, and together they wrote two guide books.
As a result of Lucy Moore’s recommendation and her mountaineering experience, in 1958 Mavis was able to leave her office job and take up an appointment as biologist with the New Zealand Forest Service. She worked on red deer for a time then, on joining the Forest Research Institute, switched her studies to the shy sika deer, a study to which she devoted the rest of her life. Mavis worked closely with deer cullers and hunters and did her share of hunting. She was greatly respected by all in the field and built up a powerful bond of trust and friendship with her co-workers. She wrote that she was “distanced from my (male) colleagues by chauvinistic pride and the practicalities of accommodation. While it raised no comment if I shared a tent with my hunters, I was banished to some accommodation elsewhere when I attended a conference”. Her research has been published internationally and she wrote 12 scientific publications.
She married in 1939. Her husband, Bill, was badly disabled in a severe car accident in 1958, and for the following 30 years Mavis cared for him with a dedication that was inspirational. They retired to Leigh in 1983 and, as well as continuing with her research, Mavis became active in local affairs, including volunteering at the Warkworth Museum. On her death, she left her research notes and photos to the museum – contained within two large filing cabinets and several cartons. This was rather an embarrassment to the museum, as no use was being made of the information, but recently a deer museum in Levin happily accepted it.
Unfortunately for Mavis, those strong legs that had carried her so far and so well let her down at the end of her life, and one of them was amputated. For someone so loved and respected in the Leigh community, this was no problem. Her neighbours set up a roster and each day meals were delivered to her modest cottage. Her second leg began to cause problems, but her death in 2004 came before any decision was made to amputate.
Maureen Young, Warkworth & District Museum