- Alumnae Spotlight
Janet Toll Davidson '57
“I don’t want to do anything where my expertise is not needed or where I’m not learning something new."
Janet Davidson: mother, lawyer, board president, grandmother, community non-profit leader, golfer, wife, and dear friend to many. She tells me, “In my life, first and foremost comes my family.” She has two sons and two daughters—all married, with grandchildren as a bonus, and from her second marriage to Richard Plat 19 years ago, three grown children with two granddaughters as blessings. Davidson has two much-loved homes, one at the beach and one in the desert, and they inhabit both regularly. Davidson is also the product of an incredibly loving family (two older sisters, two younger brothers), got into lots of mischief with her friends, and became Vice President of the student body.
“At Marlborough, my ambition was to be a U.S. Senator like Margaret Chase Smith. I was always interested in politics.” From Marlborough, Davidson went to Cornell, was elected to the Freshman Class Council, and worked on Nelson Rockefeller’s gubernatorial campaign. Her exposure later to the political world changed her mind, however. “I got turned off by the ‘two-facedness’ of politics; though many people told me I should be in politics, I felt that it was no longer honorable. I just couldn’t be true to myself and be a politician.”
Davidson left Cornell to be married, the first of her friends to be swept off her feet. In Washington, D.C., she continued her education at George Washington University. The Davidsons then settled in Los Angeles where her four children, the focus of her life, were born. But there was a longing for something beyond. She told her father (lawyer Maynard Toll) that she wanted to go to law school, and he responded, “Of my five children, you are the one who should be a lawyer,” a huge confidence boost. Davidson took the LSAT and was accepted to Loyola Law School, but motherhood was top priority. “While I was in law school, we still always had family dinners, even if they were at 8:30 p.m., and I never cancelled a family vacation.” Her daughter Jennifer was barely into nursery school when Davidson set sail into her legal classes.
While a summer associate at the Paul Hastings firm, Davidson was pressed to become a litigator. “I realized that this choice was not fair to my family...draining cases that might take me anywhere for extended periods of time. I like to solve problems, so I joined the corporate department. It was deal-oriented, bringing people together to find a solution...the same skills set as being a mother.”
Davidson’s career at Paul Hastings culminated with her being named Partner from 1985 to 2003, and the Managing Partner of the Paul Hastings Orange County Office from 1995–2001 (the first female to hold this position for a major law firm in Orange County), and Senior Counsel to the present. When Jennifer (Marlborough class of ’89) decided to transfer to Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, it opened the door for Davidson to accept the change from the Los Angeles office to Orange County. “1988 was a year of huge stress. Garr got married in the fall and Karen in the spring, I moved to a new job as head of the Real Estate Department in Paul Hastings’ Costa Mesa office, my father died, and Gary and I divorced. This was the first time I’d ever lived alone.”
With the move south, Davidson ended her community involvements in Los Angeles, but found new ones in Orange County, maintaining the same basic rule she had always adhered to: “I don’t want to do anything where my expertise is not needed or where I’m not learning something new. I prefer to be a corporate level volunteer rather than a direct service volunteer.” In 1989, she joined the board of the Orange County United Way—an organization she feels passionately about—and was the chair for three years of restructuring. Davidson’s father, Maynard, was instrumental in putting the Los Angeles United Way together.
Davidson’s number one passion is Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). “I’ve always been drawn to medicine. I was Chair of the CHOC Foundation board for three years and then asked to join the hospital board (directing the actual business of the hospital rather than the fundraising) where I have served for many years, including three years as Board Chair.” Now Davidson chairs the CHOC Board Quality Committee, focusing on quality and safety. CHOC has expanded its mission from the county level to being one of the premier children’s hospitals in the country. Other involvements include a board position with The Carson Companies, an industrial REIT with more than 10 million square feet of warehouse buildings in California and Texas; and the Auto Club, joining the board in 1986 and continuing until 2010 —“really a career!”
Davidson’s greatest pleasures stem from time spent with her children and grandchildren, taking each of these youngsters on special trips to destinations of their choosing when they turn ten. Davidson’s is truly a life of great balance, anchored by community service, an influential career in the Orange County legal world, and personal commitment to family and friends.