Irvin R. Davis, 79, finance expert

Irvin R. Davis
Irvin R. Davis
Posted: September 26, 2013

Irvin R. Davis, 79, of Philadelphia, who helped guide the city and then the school system in money matters for four decades, died Thursday, Sept. 19, of respiratory failure at Nazareth Hospital.

Mr. Davis was best known as city finance director under Mayor Frank L. Rizzo in the 1970s and finance director for the School District in the 1980s under Superintendent Constance E. Clayton. He worked under tremendous pressure, advising officials on vendors, taxes, teacher contracts, pensions, federal and state funding, capital projects, and bond issues.

Most important, he used his accounting skills to carve out the annual budget from a confusing welter of figures. Perhaps his biggest success was achieving a $63 million budget surplus for the School District in the mid-1980s.

Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode, in office from 1984 to 1992, called Mr. Davis "an outstanding finance director who knew his job and did it well."

"I worked with him more closely when he was with the School District. He had my trust. I could rely on his numbers. I never second-guessed him. He was superb at what he did - one of the very best that ever held that position," Goode wrote in an e-mail.

Sam Katz, a former school board member and mayoral candidate, said city, state, and school officials looked to Mr. Davis for truthful financial data, and he delivered.

"People trusted him because he knew everything," Katz said. "He had forgotten more about the city's finances than most of us ever knew."

Mr. Davis was hired by the city as an accountant in 1955. He rose to deputy finance director in 1968 and director of finance in 1977. He resigned in 1980 and, after a short stint in the private sector, became finance director for the School District. He retired in 1996, but remained available for work as a public auditor.

Throughout his career, Mr. Davis urged the city and district to spend conservatively and make up deficits from within. When that failed, he lambasted them in public. In 1998, for example, retained by the Pennsylvania House to study the district's finances, he warned that it was on "a hazardous course" that could lead to a state takeover.

Despite his high-pressure job, Mr. Davis retained a sense of humor.

He once slapped a pound of bacon onto the Board of Education's conference table after visiting Wall Street to discuss school finances.

"See? I'm bringing home the bacon," he told the board, according to his wife, the former Joan Hinger.

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Davis graduated from West Catholic High School and learned finance at what was then St. Joseph's College and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

His first job was busing tables at a Hot Shoppes restaurant. As a boy, he had sold newspapers and guarded cars near Connie Mack Stadium.

Years later, while traveling in Tijuana, Mexico, a boy offered to guard his car for 50 cents. Mr. Davis dug into his pocket.

" 'I used to be in that business, kid,' " his wife recalled him saying. " 'Here's $5.' "

Mr. Davis was previously married to Anne Davis, with whom he had two children. He also married Jane B. Davis, who survives. Anne Davis died earlier.

Surviving, besides his wife of 29 years and former wife, are a son, Matthew; six grandchildren; and nieces and nephews. A daughter, Anne Hurley, died earlier.

A visitation at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, will be followed by an 8 p.m. memorial service at Kirk & Nice Suburban Chapel, 333 County Line Rd., Feasterville. Burial is private.

bcook@phillynews.com

610-313-8102

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