Dr. Davy McCall, 97, a true Renaissance Man, who made major contributions to historic preservation in Chestertown and Kent County, was a distinguished teacher of economics at Washington College, a key figure in international development, and a supporter of low income housing, passed away on Sunday, at Heron Point retirement community.
” Davy” was a family name; he was related to the famous late 18th century English scientist, Sir Humphrey Davy.
Davy was a proud descendant of Ulster Scots (or Scots Irish, as they were called in the USA) Calvinist settlers who left the North of Ireland in the mid 1700s, to settle in colonial America.
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in the Shaker Heights district, where his father was a prominent businessman and residential property developer, but his family also had links to Cecil County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. After a very short time at Cornell University’s architecture school, he knew designing modern buildings bored him, and he transferred, briefly, to Case Western Reserve University, but graduated in economics from Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, where he was a standout student.
In World War Two, Davy was selected by the military to learn the Chinese language, at the University of Chicago, and later was deployed to Japan, with General Douglas MacArthur’s administration in Tokyo, where he developed a lifelong love of East Asia.
He returned Stateside in 1946, and soon began an M A program at Harvard University, under the supervision of the legendary China scholar, John King Fairbank. Later, in Saigon, Vietnam, he became interested in what would become the subject of his Harvard Ph D, focusing on the country’s economic history during the French colonial period. He served with the Department of State and then the United States Agency for International Development. He gradually came to see that the civil conflict in Vietnam was centered not simply on communism v. capitalism, but on a deep nationalism and anti-colonialism too. He later worked in Cambodia in both the public and private sectors, and traveled widely in the region.
Davy was recruited by the World Bank and became the key loan officer for Spain, Morocco, and the Republic of Ireland, which had been left out of the Marshall Plan, because of Irish neutrality during the war, and was then a poor country. His work at the Bank widened, but he returned to USAID to senior positions in DC and in Syria, in Damascus, working on building infrastructure, then returned to Washington, living in Georgetown.
But Davy had always loved the countryside of the Eastern Shore, and especially admired the elegantly built 18th century plantation residences and townhouses of the era, particularly in and around Chestertown. He commuted on weekends to his historic farm, Hodges Bar, on the Bay, near Rock Hall, restoring it from a previous fire, and he became deeply involved in the restoration of properties in Chestertown particularly.
Davy became president of the non-profit, Preservation, Inc., along with Christian Havemeyer, Michael Bourne, the Miller family, and others, and one of the first townhouses they preserved was the John Bolton House (1759) at the corner of Maple Avenue and North Queen street, which the group carefully restored to its original plan and layout.
Davy wrote extensively about the history of the town, including on the African American community, and on John Bolton, a major figure of the Revolution in Kent County.
Around this time, an economics professor at Washington College asked Davy to step in to a last minute slot which had opened, teaching economics, which turned into a multi-year commitment which Davy enjoyed, and was supremely qualified to teach, both as a Harvard Ph.D. and a practitioner of international development economics. One of his favorite students was Larry Culp, now Chairman of GE, and a current board member and board chair of the college. Davy never sought tenure, and in his 60s, after selling Hodges Bar, he bought and restored historic houses at Cannon Street, near Water Street, and finally on the corner of Cannon and North Queen.
In his 80s, Davy moved to a two bedroom cottage at Heron Point, and later to a stylish two bedroom apartment, furnished with beautiful antiques, paintings and historic prints and a plethora of books.
Davy was a highly social person and had many friends from Washington and Baltimore who would regularly come to visit him in Chestertown and vice versa. Davy leaves close relatives in Long Boat Key, Florida, San Francisco, and Cairo, Egypt.
He was a member of the Historic District Commission of Chestertown, a board member of Preservation, Maryland, a Vestryman of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, a board member of Heron Point, and a strong supporter of affordable low-income housing in the Episcopal Diocese of Easton and in Chestertown.
Davy was beloved, admired, and respected, and until just a few days before he died, had a first class mind and an extraordinary memory for detail, and a love of intellectual engagement, a person with old world courtesy, manners, and kindness to others. He will be much missed. Truly, a man for all seasons.