Events & News

In Memoriam: Joan Kaplan Davidson (1927-2023)

November 30, 2023

By Anthony C. Wood
From the 2023 Newsletter

The death of Joan Kaplan Davidson brought forth a wonderful chorus of tributes from a wide array of civic organizations. Many of these groups share a common history of receiving both a Kaplan grant and encouragement from Joan. These tributes serve as appropriate and accurate testimonies to the outsized role she and the J. M. Kaplan Fund have played in the life of New York City, New York State, and the nation. 

Joan played such a role for the New York Preservation Archive Project. Like so many other organizations, it was a Kaplan grant that gave us our start. Joan’s support has spanned our entire 25-year existence, from that first grant (channeled through the Historic Districts Council) to the last donation which arrived just days after her death. Beyond essential funding, Joan’s presence at our events, particularly in the early years, both encouraged us as well as elevated the importance of our work in the eyes of others. We were delighted when she accepted our Preservation Award in 2018. 

Unlike philanthropists who only fund established organizations, Joan was willing and excited to back an unproven new organization with a compelling mission and a passionate leader. She bet on the jockey, not the horse. She was a brilliant talent scout. Unlike funders who avoid controversy, Joan was willing to stand up and fund the good fight, no matter its popularity. Unlike others who only back likely winners, Joan funded important causes, even if their chances of success would have scared off the most inveterate gambler. 

Books have been written about Joan, her philanthropy, and her influence (if you missed it, see Elizabeth Rohn Jeffe’s review of Roberta Gratz’s It’s a Helluva Town: Joan K. Davidson, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, and the Fight for a Better New York in our Spring/Summer 2021 Newsletter). So, suffice it to add, the impact of her loss is as incalculable as the impact she has had on all of us and the places she loved so much: New York City, the Hudson River Valley, and the entire Empire State. Her legacy lives on in those places and in all of us who were lucky enough to be encouraged, empowered, and inspired by her. As she would say: Excelsior!