Sylvia Davis, 93, Emmy-Award Winning Producer, Creative Director, Leader

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From QuickNooz

The GBH community notes with sadness the passing of former GBH Producer Sylvia Davis, who died Mon, 8/24. She was 93.

Sylvia worked at GBH from 1970 to 1980 and began her GBH career leading Public Relations, managing marketing and promotion for such national shows as EVENING AT POPS and ZOOM.

She received multiple Emmy awards as a producer of local and national programs for the station, including DANCING DISCO, DISCO DAZZLER, and THE CLUB, a groundbreaking news magazine show.

Sylvia gave her take on what makes GBH unique in this New York Times article from 1976.

Donations in her memory can be made to the Alliance for Women in Media The family also plans to create a local scholarship in her name.

From The Boston Globe

DAVIS, Sylvia WGBH Producer and Pioneering Public Television Leader, Dies at 93

An innovative force at WGBH during the height of Channel 2’s prolific contributions to national public television, Ms. Davis died on August 24.

A leading influence at WGBH, Ms. Davis began her Boston television career leading Public Relations at the station, responsible for marketing and promotion for national shows including Evening at the Pops, Zoom, and others.

She later received multiple Emmy awards as a producer of local and national programs for the station including Dancing Disco, Disco Dazzler, and The Club, a ground-breaking news magazine show.

Ms. Davis hosted several luminaries at her home in Brookline during her tenure at WGBH as well, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Garrett Morris, and Julia Child. Sylvia was an active inspiration to women in television and developed grants for the advancement of women in the industry.

Ms. Davis is survived by her sons Scott and Matthew, her grandchildren Kelsey, Mikaela, and Alexander, and her sister Jeanne Ternullo. Interment will take place at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Brookline on Monday, August 31. Donations can be made to the Alliance for Women in Media at A local scholarship in her name will also become available.

Excerpts from The New York Times

According to Sylvia Davis, the creative director for WGBH, the station’s success results from an atmosphere that fosters innovation, combined with an ambitious fund‐rising arm. “People are able to shape themselves here,” she said recently.

“There is a respect for eccentricity here that encourages people like Julia Child [of “The French Chef”] to develop. It is not as though we sensed a great need for a cooking show—but here was this potent woman with an obvious need to share her talent.”



  1. Jay Collier on September 25, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    From the WGBH Alumni Facebook group:

    Ralph Schuetz – Sylvia was a talented, creative strength to be sure. My condolences to the family, son Scott in particular who I remember well.

    Denis O’Neill – Sylvia was a force, an energy field, and her assessment of the station’s strength in the old days seems spot on. R.I.P.

    Germaine Frechette – My condolences to the Davis family. It’s always great to read some history from the “good old days” at GBH.

    Dick Heller – RIP. Sylvia was a dynamic presence and force to be reckoned with. Those were memorable times. Condolences to Scott, wherever you may be.

    Mark Duffield – This is about the best description of my years at WGBH that I ever heard.

    Especially recognizing the value of fund-raising which was never easy and gets little attention compared to that given to producers who couldn’t produce anything without fundraising.

    But mostly for her comment on an excellent organization …”where people are able to shape themselves here.” That was certainly true when the conventional wisdom and “this is the way we do things here” was retired for a while and new thinking and approaches were embraced and produced remarkable results.

  2. Cberyl Susheel Bibbs on September 24, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    I remember Sylvia. May she pass on to a place of peace. As Exec of Zoom I worked with Sylvia many times. She was always pleasant, forthright, energetic, and incredibly competent. I truly appreciated her talents. Thank to Sylvia

  3. Fred Barzyk on September 18, 2020 at 10:30 am

    And then there were three.

    First, the quiet but professional Station Manager, Dave Davis. I remember this moment so well…

    David Ives had heard from the musicians union that Folk Music USA was using talent as promos for the coffee house that hired them and they WERE NOT BEING PAID. Ives wrote a memo to the station that we should concentrate on education shows because we get in trouble when we do entertainment.

    Producer David Sloss and I became so angry that we wrote a rather nasty rebuttal. We declared to management we HAD to do entertainment or be irrelevant. After writing the memo we had second thoughts. So we went to Dave Davis. We handed it to him and asked should we lose it or send it. It took 2 seconds after reading it …”Send it” We did.

    Hartford Gunn got so mad that he grabbed me by the tie and thrust me against the wall of the red shack building behind the Museum of Science. He said they were going to do entertainment but it takes time and for us to back off. Our message had gotten thru.

    And then there were two.

    One morning at that same Red Shack, this young kid delivered us the mail. Who was he? Dan Beach said it was Dave Davis kid, Scott. Dave let him do this volunteer job for a couple of days and then told him he couldn’t do it anymore. Scott, no more than 13, wasn’t going to be stopped. He wrote a letter to Hartford Gunn and requested that he continue being a volunteer.

    Gunn approved it over Dave Davis orders, and so Scott started his career early at WGBH. And then he went on to do so much. I remember when he and another guy actually supervised the WGBH mobile unit and rented it out to other organizations. Scott went on to have a great career and returned for one of our reunions.

    And then there was one: Sylvia Davis.

    She burst on the scene with a a jolt of good old commercial know how. She sent a wave of excitement thru the whole building. She and Michael Rice together set the tone of fun, experimentation, and outreach never seen before.

    Life is made of moments.

    I had convinced the women’s college, Sacred Heart, to let me stage a HAPPENING for them. Somehow, Peter Downey and his girlfriend (and future wife) helped it get through the administration.

    In a gym, a huge crowd gathered to watch MFA host Russ Connor sit center court, carrying on a recorded conversation with 4 store manikins.

    Along with 4 movie projects running wild, seven slide machines painting the walls with abstractions, there was Scott and his band! Every time they played, the crowd would get up and start dancing… it was the hit of the event. (Mark Stevens being painted head to foot was a close second.)

    And who was sitting there on the gym floor? Michael Rice and Sylvia. Yes, management came to see our insanities.

    What a night.

    At the end of this mess, I announced to the crowd that the rest of the event would take place outside. Nothing happened outside, so everyone got up and left. Sylvia went and hugged Scott. It was a good moment.

    Later in my career I was doing a shoot for Polaroid. I needed a Mom and a kid just sitting looking at the sunset. It was a sweet moment, a mother and her little son. It was Sylvia and Mathew. I’ll never forget the love Sylvia showed for her child.

    A few years ago I lost me eldest daughter. It leaves a hole in your heart. I know Sylvia’s daughter also passed. It leaves you remembering all the great moments, the sad moments, the special moments. But you are never are the same. No matter how hard you try.

    I hope you two are reunited once again.

    Rest in peace.

  4. Russ Fortier on September 13, 2020 at 4:47 pm

    I worked with Sylvia on several occasions, mostly directing the last seasons of The Club and as it transitioned from Channel 44 (WGBX) to Channel 2 (WGBH).

    To me, The Club was pretty much a reflection of Sylvia herself: a bundle of varied, energetic segments; an intuitive blend of the silly, the sublime, the serious, and the smart. A combination that managers today might find too risky, I’ll bet…. but, to me, it was television perfect…

    I mean where can you see a political interview, followed by a musical performance, followed by Michael Sherlock reading Shakespeare, followed by a juggling act – all in only one of the programs four half-hour segments? Cultural chaos, medium well.

    She understood television. Our city, our station captured in fine relief, captained by Sylvia in firm liberality; open to all ideas and choosing carefully among them.

    She’ll be missed in life, of course, but she’s really been missed in the medium for a long time

  5. Deborah J. Gillespie on September 13, 2020 at 10:57 am

    Working for Mark Stevens “on the strip,” I certainly remember Sylvia with greast fondness. She never “walked” anywhere, she dashed from pillar to post. ‘GBH’s own Auntie Mame !!

    Brilliance must have been her middle name. My most favorite memory — Sylvia roaring with laughter as she sat on Michael Rice’s lap making her demands…

    Scott and Matthew, we all wish you well.

  6. Deb Gibbs on September 4, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    My almost 40 year tenure at GBH began on November 10, 1975 working for Sylvia Davis and Chris Pullman as Confidential Secretary on “the Strip”. Those were the “good old days” when everyone pretty much knew everyone. Sylvia was a presence wherever she went. An unmistakable heart laugh, streaked messy blonde hair pulled up with a clip, and a blouse which was more often than not unbuttoned pretty far down her chest. She was funny and kind, and motherly to me at the age of 26. The fun and hard work we had doing Club 44 and The Club. One day she threw a green bar printout on my desk and said “here, deal with this”. Financial figures! Yikes! This one action took me into the financial arena of GBH. In retrospect, I have Sylvia to thank for my climb through the ranks and my last tenured position at GBH – Business Manager of Masterpiece – for 23 of the 40 years. I remember Sylvia fondly – a great lady and a great boss.

  7. Marilyn Greenstein on September 4, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    I worked for Sylvia Davis during my 9-year stay at GBH and stayed in touch with her after she left. She was home until a few years ago. Scott, who I saw at a reunion, told me she had gone to live in a nursing home after she became very ill.

    Sylvia was wonderful woman who grew ideas in her brain. She shared everything with enthusiasm and generosity. She gave me opportunity when I worked on The Club right from the start.

    I will always remember how kind she was to me and others, how she took the time to listen, and how she created The Club as a new innovative program that wouldn’t have happened with hear.

    Rest in peace Sylvia. I will miss you.

  8. David Atwood on September 4, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    Sylvia was a constant bundle of energy and fountain of ideas. I worked with her as the TV director on Club 44, later to be The Club, which was a nightly half hour variety show taped live-on-tape all in a row on a Thursday night for the next week. I think she cooked up the idea of the show and also how to produce it. Brilliant. Managing a bevy of producers to get 150 minutes of TV ready was no small feat. Thank you Sylvia for everything you brought to WGBH in those golden years.

  9. Bill Cosel - on September 2, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    It’s very sad when a death is reported that has special resonance because it’s one of the WGBH family. My sympathy is extended to Scott and Mathew.

    Sylvia was a big chapter in WGBH history. Sylvia replaced Mrs. Peters, then PR director for the Educational Foundation. Some of us were there and witnessed how Sylvia brought change to WGBH.

    I met Sylvia when she was married to the long-time excellent WGBH Station Manager, Dave Davis, who brought about our move from the temporary studio and offices at the Museum of Science to the new building at 125 Western Avenue. It was Dave, working closely with WGBH President Hartford Gunn, that got us to Western Avenue thanks to a sweetheart deal with Harvard.

    We lost track of Sylvia when she left WGBH and went to work for the Boston Symphony … and then she seemed to vanish? I tried to find her son, Scott, to track her down but failed.

    Sylvia, was not a shy person. She filled any room with enthusiasm and ideas. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind which always got the attention of producers cooking up new ideas sometimes resulting in heated creative exchanges as you’d expect. In fact the PR department became the office of Creative Director during her tenure. I certainly experienced such meetings. All pushed their points of view which often became better and more focused as a result of exchange.

    As partner to the then-program manager, Michael Rice, Sylvia helped launch many national programs and series for PBS. She left a huge mark locally and nationally. She knew how to promote making sure that WGBH was the place to work and to be front and center nationally

    I enjoyed working with Sylvia.

    Hey Scott, I’d love to hear from

    • Jane Arsham on September 6, 2020 at 8:41 am

      I really appreciate your comments about the WGBH Family, Bill– sadly we’ll be reading more and more like this. And each one touches someplace in my heart that I’d totally forgotten. Sylvia Davis was a dynamic force– unforgettable- as are so many memories of our times together in the late 60’s and 70’s when we created the foundation for the explosive growth that followed.

  10. Chris Pullman on September 2, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    A dynamo, indeed. I got to work with her right off the bat when I arrived at GBH in 73. I laughed at her jokes and she laughed at mine.Lucky for me. Her enthusiasm for wacko ideas was a an incubator for risky ideas that got people’s attention, like the 2-mobile. Or fundraising ads with copy like “Would you buy a used car from this man? under a picture of David Ives holding a GBH umbrella. Or the pre-stained French Chef dishtowel premium complete with gravy, wine and hand smears. Or Club 44, for heaven’s sake.

  11. Bill Charette on September 2, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Remembering what a dynamo Sylvia was during my time at the station. I have an image of her rushing through the studio during a production, always with a smile and/or a hearty laugh leading the troops though what can look like organized chaos to an outsider. She was a major contributor in the middle of the most creative and productive years of GBH’s history. Condolences to Scott and Matthew. May she rest in peace.

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