Following are remarks prepared and presented by John Todd on the passing of Bill Davitt.
My longtime friend and fellow citizen activist William T. “Bill” Davitt passed away on May 14, 2020. His active voice of counsel will be missed in our community.
I don’t remember when I first met Bill Davitt but suspect it was in the late 1980s. Bill was a familiar presence walking across the Bitting Street Bridge over the Little Arkansas River on his way to or from home from the former Dillions grocery store at 13th & Waco. He could be seen waiting at the bus stop for a trip to downtown Wichita and back since he did not own a car.
Over his lifetime, Bill was a prolific writer and had frequent “Letters to the Editor” published in the Wichita Eagle on a variety of topics. He frequently testified before the Wichita City Council, the Sedgwick County Commission, and before numerous House and Senate Legislative Committees in Topeka. Bill was a staunch advocate for Municipal and State Court Reform, and the protection of private property rights from governmental eminent domain abuse. Even in his later years when he was living in an assisted care facility, he submitted a letter of testimony on an issue he was passionate about.
In the mid-1990s I witnessed first-hand the abuse of the Wichita Municipal Court and City Council that came close to forcing Bill’s removal and the bulldozing to the ground of his home at 1205 N. Bitting. An Eagle article titled something to the effect, “Angels intervene in housing repair” described how Bill’s house was saved from destruction by a charitable group of neighborhood volunteers who stood by Bill and defied the city’s bulldozing edict. There were between 30 and 50 volunteers and donors involved in this citizen-helping-citizen effort. And, through the successful saving of Bill’s house from the city’s bulldozer, we witnessed first-hand the generous “barn-raising” spirit of our fellow Kansans who, when called upon to do so, come to the aid of their fellow citizens in their greatest time of need. They were wonderful!
As a result of the bulldozing incident, Bill and I championed Municipal Court reform bills in the Kansas Legislature in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The odds were stacked against us as we discovered there was no political will among the cities in Kansas to give up their tremendous cash-cow source of revenue that their municipal courts generate.
In 2002, Bill and I were able to stop a bad State Court Reform Resolution from successfully making its way through the Kansas Legislature. The resolution was based on a 1997 study commissioned by Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Kay McFarland by a group called the Kansas Justice Initiative Commission. When the issue was heard before a joint legislative committee that spring in Topeka, Bill and I were the only two Kansas citizens to appear before the committee to testify in opposition to the Resolution that was on greased skids towards passage on the single recommendation of the Justice Initiative Committee. Among other things, the Resolution failed to include Kansas Municipal Courts as part of the needed reform. The people of Kansas won that day!
Some of Bill’s other issues that I recall include his advocacy for the family through Marriage Savers, and for including fathers in the family through the National Fatherhood Initiative. He was an advocate for teaching our young people civics in school so they could know who their city council members, county commissioners, and legislators were in order for them to get involved as active and informed citizens in creating better government.
One of the things I admired most about Bill Davitt was the “forward-looking and his look to the future attitude” towards life that he had even in his late 80s when most people his age had given up dreaming of the future. As a young man he studied political science (civics), speech, and the law. In his early years he used his great speaking voice as a radio announcer on KFH Radio in Wichita. In recent years as a resident at the Via Christi Village senior care facility Bill used his great voice to sing songs that staff and other residents enjoyed, and he became a popular singer with that group. As a result of this interaction, Bill envisioned taking his singing talents to the next level and to promote himself as a nation-wide senior singing star. He wrote numerous letters to music promoters advocating his “senior singer” career passion. He dreamed of making it big in his new singing career.
Bill Davitt was a man of great passion and faith who loved to teach. He was a man of luck who always seemed to have guardian angels looking after him when he faced his greatest needs in life. In my mind Sharon Witzell filled that need during the last few years of Bill’s life as his guardian mentor advocating for his best interests. Sharon serves as the Program Coordinator of Senior Adult Ministries with the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. As a friend of Bill Davitt, I would like to personally thank Sharon for the fine work she performed for Bill on his behalf. And, I believe Sharon has some fun Bill Davitt memories that she would like to share with you this afternoon. Perhaps there are others here today who want to share their Bill Davitt memories too.
In closing I would like to say, Bill “we will miss hearing your singing voice and your steady voice of counsel, COUNSELOR!” And, I suspect as each of us passes to the other side in our own time, we will discover that Bill Davitt will be one of the lead angels in the Lord’s elite-hand-picked choir singing in heaven!
May you rest in peace, Bill!