Denny Davidoff — a Westporter and pioneering advertising agency owner whose work with the Unitarian Universalist church helped shape liberal religion in North America, and inter-religious dialogue globally — died on December 7.
She was 85. In July she was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in her brain.
Denny moved to Westport in 1959 with her husband Jerry — a lawyer and civil liberties advocate. They knew the town well: Both their parents had summer homes here.
In 1960 Denny joined Westport’s Unitarian Church. She became a leader locally, then nationally, fighting for gender equity and against racism. In 1973 she was chosen to be president of Unitarian Universalism’s Women’s Federation. Her work helped lead to pioneering gender-inclusive language.
From 1992 to 2000 — as moderator, the highest lay position in national leadership — Denny wielded the gavel in what the church itself calls “sometimes unruly” debates. She preached in more than 100 congregations, and mentored generations of ministers and lay leaders.
Denny held many other leadership positions. Until her illness, she worked for Meadville-Lombard Theological School in Chicago, supporting development of new UU ministers.
Denny was a board member and founder of the Interfaith Alliance, and its foundation. As a director of the Alban Institute, she consulted for congregations of many denominations.
Besides her role in religion, Denny was a leader in Connecticut business and politics. She founded her ad agency in Fairfield in the mid-1960s — the “Mad Men” era. She specialized in advertising for financial institutions.
Denny volunteered for non-profits, including the Westport Library, the NEON anti-poverty agency, and a mental health association in Norwalk. Her longest community service — beginning in 1992, and lasting to her death — was as a director and executive community member of The WorkPlace, helping create and manage programs in Connecticut and nationally.
Denny graduated from Vassar College. After running errands during the 1952 Democratic convention, she remained active in politics — and met her future husband on an election campaign.
Denny served on the Westport Democratic Town Committee, and ran ad campaigns for candidates throughout Fairfield County. She also provided advertising for Ella Grasso, the first American woman elected governor without being married to a previous governor.
She and Jerry enjoyed cruising the New England coast on their 38-foot sailboat. At home, she played show tunes and classical compositions on the piano. Jerry died in 2009.
Denny is survived by her sons Douglass of Bridgeport and John of Evanston, Illinois, and 4 grandchildren. A memorial service is set for February 3 (3 p.m.). Of course, it will be held at Westport’s Unitarian Church, on Lyons Plains Road.