Scholars and Stewards/George Davidson: The Gifts of Time and Financial Support

Issue Date: 
August 23, 2011
During its June 24 meeting, Pitt’s Board of Trustees recognized George Davidson (center) for his board service, which began in 1987, and named Davidson an emeritus trustee. Standing with him are Stephen Tritch (left), board chair, and Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.During its June 24 meeting, Pitt’s Board of Trustees recognized George Davidson (center) for his board service, which began in 1987, and named Davidson an emeritus trustee. Standing with him are Stephen Tritch (left), board chair, and Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.

George Davidson (ENGR ’61) was determined to earn a University of Pittsburgh degree in petroleum engineering, something his father said would guarantee him a job for life. So when rising tuition costs threatened his educational pursuits, Davidson joined the Pitt grounds crew. He worked every weekday afternoon and all day Saturdays. During an earlier summer, Davidson worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, with an oil drilling crew in New Mexico and Colorado.

Davidson’s fine-tuned work ethic has served him well throughout his career. He joined Consolidated Natural Gas (CNG), a large energy holding company, in 1966 and rose through the ranks, becoming chair and CEO in 1987. In January 2000, CNG merged with Dominion Resources, creating one of the largest electric and gas utilities in the United States. Davidson served as Dominion chair until he retired in August 2000.

Davidson attributes much of his success in the energy industry to the guidance he received from a Pitt advisor during his final semester at the University. The advisor recommended that instead of accepting an entry-level job in the struggling energy industry, Davidson should consider a position with the Federal Power Commission. The commission, originally organized to coordinate federal hydroelectric projects in the 1920s, eventually became the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The advisor even persuaded the commission’s head of personnel to travel to Pitt for the Pitt-Army game and meet Davidson ... who was soon on his way to Washington, D.C.

“It was a tremendous experience,” said Davidson of his five years at the Federal Power Commission. Not only did he gain a broad overview of the energy industry, he also met his wife of nearly 50 years, Ada, in the nation’s capitol.

“I owe the University a lot,” said Davidson, who has repaid that sense of debt with both dedicated service and generous gifts to the University.

Davidson has been a member of Pitt’s Board of Trustees for 24 years and was named an emeritus trustee in June. He has chaired the board’s Academic Affairs and Libraries committees, served on the Executive, Affirmative Action, and Compensation committees, and advised three University chancellors since 1987.

“I still remember when I was asked to join the board,” Davidson recalled. “I was thrilled to become a trustee of the school that I had worked my way through.”

Other Pitt commitments include serving as chair of the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business Board of Visitors and vice chair of the Swanson School of Engineering Board of Visitors. Davidson is a Golden Life Member of the Pitt Alumni Association and the recipient of the Swanson School of Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988 and the Bicentennial Medallion of Distinction in 1993. He was named a Pitt Legacy Laureate in 2000.

He is one of the University’s most generous donors. His many gifts to Pitt include contributions to the Swanson School, the Katz School, the School of Medicine, and the Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg University Chair.

His gifts to the Swanson School include the George A. Davidson Unit Operations Laboratory in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, the George Davidson Chemical Engineering Graduate Fellowship Fund, and the establishment of two endowments to support engineering laboratories. He also established a scholarship in the Katz School, the George A. Davidson Jr. MBA Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Gerald D. Holder, Pitt’s U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering, said he admires Davidson’s exceptional commitment to the University and the Swanson School, including his 20 years on the Board of Visitors, his involvement with Benedum Hall’s recent expansion, and his financial support for some of the school’s most critical initiatives—including graduate student support.

“Fellowships are one of the greater needs in the graduate school. They help support the quality of the programs,” said Holder, adding that, “George realizes we can’t get the best students if we can’t provide great aid.”

Davidson also voices his admiration for Pitt Chancellor Mark A Nordenberg: “He is such an honorable person who has great empathy for the students, faculty, and employees of the University, and has done an excellent job as a negotiator and representative before elected officials in Harrisburg.”

Davidson said he looks forward to more years of continued service to and support of the University that has made record-breaking strides on a broad range of fronts in recent years, and that provided him with an education, which fueled a successful life and career.