Remembering Dr. Davida Coady

A Hometown Physician-Activist

by Scott Carroll

 Photo by Peter Wortsman

Photo by Peter Wortsman

The Berkeley Free Clinic’s Medical Director for the last decade, Dr. Davida Coady, has passed away. She was 80 and had been battling cancer.

Having been friends with several of our volunteers, Davida stepped into the Medical Director position in the early 2000’s. Although we are a quirky organization, the post was an easy fit considering her background and passions, which included helping the underserved and educating future doctors.  Most BFC volunteer probably didn’t notice Davida when she came into the clinic, usually to drop medications or to sign off on paperwork, and certainly didn’t know of her fame for her life of peace and justice, and health activism around the world (see the NY Times obituary for more on that). We were lucky to have had her help.

Davida was a Berkeley native, born in Alta Bates hospital on April 15th, 1938, and she grew up in a small house set back on a foot path behind another house on Craigmont Avenue in the north Berkeley hills. Their home only had a fireplace for heat. Her family was poor by her account; her mother had been a secretary and her father worked in the inventory department at Cal.  In her memoir, The Greatest Good, she said that growing up poor had helped her later in her international health career where she was called on to cross what we in the US consider specialties. From her experiences repairing her own clothes, she had the skills to sew when she needed to do surgery.

 Martin Sheen, Davida Coady, and Father Bill O’Donnell protesting at the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga. in 2001. (Coady family photo).

Martin Sheen, Davida Coady, and Father Bill O’Donnell protesting at the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga. in 2001. (Coady family photo).

Davida attended Berkeley High School when the school still had fraternities and sororities - she said that she wasn’t popular enough to get into any. After high school Davida got a summer job at a camp for children with diabetes.  “This was still in the relatively early years of insulin therapy; doctors and their patients were figuring out how to live with what been a fatal disease. Diabetic kids in those days led very abnormal and threatened lives. For them to be able to go to camp was a miracle.”  

She credits the camp as a life-changing experience.  “It led me into medicine, and brought me extraordinary mentors and friends.”

We are extremely grateful for the friendship Davida had with the clinic.