By Eugenia Moskowitz
On Sunday, Aug. 19, Washingtonville High School principal Brian Connolly sent a message to the school community about the sudden, unexpected passing of Jodi Davis, a guidance counselor and much beloved drama teacher who ran the Masque & Mime Society for decades.
Connolly wrote, “It is with profound regret that I am writing to you to share sad news. We learned today that Mrs. Jodi Davis, a beloved staff member of our school and community, passed away yesterday. Mrs. Davis was a veteran school counselor and the inspiration and leader behind our school theater productions.”
Anyone who knew Davis knows how much she supported and inspired students in all aspects of their lives: social, emotional, intellectual — an unquantifiable sum of human interaction and love for so many children over so many years. The shock and grief currently in the Washingtonville community is palpable.
Taft Elementary School was open Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 20-21 because while the school was working to put in place a group of support people, Connolly said, “The support we can provide to each other will be important as we process this tragic news. Mrs. Davis touched many lives in our school and community. Her vibrant spirit will be missed by students and staff alike.”
Remembrances have been shared among those who knew Davis. Katie Ellsweig wrote, “I wanted to find something to say about Jodi Davis that would accurately depict the person she was; the very definition of kind. She was my high school guidance counselor but she was more than that to me, my friends, and the entire community. She was there for everyone, remembered everyone, treated every single person like they were her family. I vividly remember being an exhausted, confused teenager trying to find my way crying in her office and Jodi Davis told me, “Remember you are a human being, not a human doing.” I carried that with me and I still do. Over a decade later, she was still cheering for my success. Jodi Davis was a great human being. Her life was spent helping people to know themselves and to be great. There aren’t nearly enough people in the world who are that truly good. I am grieving for her today.”
Someone known in the online theater community Jose Morales wrote, “Education — specifically educators — saved my life. Jodi Davis, one of my most important mentors, was one of them. It’s intensely painful to use the past tense.
“High school is a rough time and Washingtonville was no exception. What was exceptional was that some of the staff truly saw something in us and made magic out of mulhills. Jodi put everything, absolutely everything into her students’ pursuits.
“It’s been almost ten years since I and my very best friends were studying under her, receiving her feedback, learning her choreo, and failing to meet her off-book deadlines for the spring musical. And now it feels even farther. High school is a rough time. Jodi knew that and through Masque & Mime she let us sing, and dance, and be super queer about it before we had the language, guts, and support system (internally or externally) to do it. She knit the fabric of our social structure together and it saved us until we could fly the coup. And fly we did.
“I remember being in economics my freshman year of college, shortly before I was scheduled to go back to Washingtonville for the first time as an alum to watch Gagapalooza, a show that Jodi helped some incredible students make happen in addition to our normal three shows a year. We learned about this super perplexing concept known as potential productivity. Basically, it’s this made up number of how good the economy can be if everyone was doing well everywhere.
“Potential was this really profound concept to me, all of a sudden. Because Jodi had mentioned it numerous times. She saw it in all of us. In our shows. In the senior year cabaret. She looked through our increasingly hormonal and annoying teenage rebelliousness and saw that we were going to be alright. That we were gonna carry ourselves over numerous finish lines. So she carried us over one of our first ones.
“Potential productivity is almost only discernable in the past. But, once again, in my twenties, I can say very firmly that the potential of this world, this little world that she was gardening, just decreased. I was very closeted, very scared, and very willing to give up on my dreams in 2009. Jodi refused to let me bathe in that. I think it actually made her angry. So she gave me and a couple hundred millennials trying to figure out this insane world the opportunity sing our hearts out about topics we had no concept of — like parenthood, justice over tyranny, eating three balanced meals that you have to prepare yourself. And she taught us how to do it well, with conviction, and with a loooot of tough love.
“Yeah, Jodi was hard on us and I’m eternally thankful for it. She gave me music, confidence, and a shoulder to cry on as often as I needed it. She’d chalk it up to ‘just doing her job,’ but that wasn’t it. I never thanked her in full for it. That was a huge mistake.
“Jodi let me play the minister in Footloose when I was a junior, and some of his last lines are this: I hope you never doubt that I love you. If that’s hard to figure out sometimes, well, then, I apologize. But you are dearer to my life than you could ever realize. In 2008, I had no idea what this guy was talking about. Regrettably, I do now.
“High school is a rough time. How are people going to do it without her?”