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Siesta Key pioneer, newspaper founder and businessman dies at 93

John B. Davidson started Davidson Drugs in 1958, founded and published the Pelican Press and tirelessly served his fellow islanders.

John Davidson inside his store in 2015.
John Davidson inside his store in 2015.
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  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Pioneer. Entrepreneur. Visionary. Community leader. Tireless.

Those are just a few of the words those who knew him used to describe Siesta Key’s John B. Davidson, who died Jan. 22, while under hospice care. He was 93. 

He is perhaps best known as the founder of Davidson Drugs in 1958, which at one point operated seven locations on Siesta Key and in Sarasota.

“When he opened the drug store, the island wasn’t that populated,” says Siesta Key resident and County Commissioner Mark Smith. "He built the building and he had a doctor’s office next door, so he was a visionary.”

In addition to providing local retail outlets for the convenience of Siesta Key residents, he was also the founder and publisher of a weekly community newspaper, The Pelican Press, from 1971 to 1998.

“I met John in 1999 after I moved my office from my house into my office in Siesta Village and was getting involved in the village association,” says Smith, an architect by trade. “What struck me about John was his dedication and love for the village and his passion for Siesta Key and its history. I referred to him as the patriarch of Siesta Key.”

An active member of the community who served in leadership positions for multiple organizations, Davidson was also a leading figure in efforts to incorporate Siesta Key into its own municipality rather than being subject to Sarasota County government first in the 1960s, later in the 1990s and most recently beginning in 2021. His efforts led to creation of the Siesta Key Overlay District in 2001.

“We’re not saying the county is bad. What we’re saying is we would be the better stewards of our island,” Davidson said in a 2021 Sarasota Observer story.

"He was such an inspiration. I admired him deeply, and I really wanted the incorporation to be part of his legacy,” says Tracy Jackson, who served alongside Davidson as a member of the Save Siesta Key Board of Directors. “He was one of the largest landowners on Siesta Key, and he never wanted big hotels and that kind of development. I just think that speaks volumes to the type of man that he was.”

Tracy Jackson with John Davidson, with whom she served on the Save Siesta Key Board of Directors.
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Davidson attended Duke University and earned his pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado. During a 1956 vacation in Sarasota, he fell in love with the area and decided to call it home. 

More than independence for Siesta Key and serving customers at his drug stores, Davidson gave of his time and talent to Little League Baseball, the Boy Scouts,  the Selby Foundation as a 17-year trustee and serving as president of the Argus Foundation and Sarasota Bay Rotary Club, He was also founder and director of Enterprise Bank and was commodore of The Field Club, where he had been an active member for 65 years. 

Davidson spent many hours sailing his boat, Equanimity, on Sarasota Bay. His love of photography took him to exotic locations around the world to capture images of wildlife and nature from polar bears in Hudson Bay, Canada, and penguins in Antarctica to encounters with elephants in Africa. 

He spent time at his summer home in the mountains of North Carolina. But it was his time and dedication to Siesta Key that leaves his mark.

“He was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known,” Jackson says. “He worked his entire life. He never stopped working even into his late 80s. He had so much energy.

“He was just one of my favorite people on the planet.”

Davidson is survived by his wife of 43 years, Rita, six children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

This article originally appeared on sister site


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