Remembering Charles W. Davidson

Dear campus community,

We learned today about the passing of Charles W. Davidson, the legendary San José builder, engineer and San José State alumnus for whom our College of Engineering is named. His contributions to our university and to the City of San José are incalculable, and he will be missed tremendously. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.

Though his imprint on the physical landscape of San José and the broader Silicon Valley region over the past six decades is astounding, it is his generosity, civic leadership and philanthropic deeds for which previous and future generations will remember him. Chuck was so much more than a builder of physical spaces. He was also a builder of our community.

We talk a great deal at San José State about our civic-minded approach to higher education, and Chuck epitomized the kind of dedication to community to which we aspire. A self-made man and a model citizen, he had a tremendous impact on both our university and the Bay Area region as a whole.

Attending classes at San José State by day and working in the railroad yards by night, Chuck graduated with a degree in civil engineering in 1957. He later founded several companies, becoming one of the largest and most successful real estate developers in the Bay Area. Many of his businesses in the development, construction or property management arena are still active today. 

Mr. Davidson resided in San José since 1952, and his genuine concern for the city’s most vulnerable residents was apparent from early on. Focusing on low-income families and the elderly, he worked tirelessly to construct affordable housing and considered the development of subsidized housing units amongst his proudest achievements.

Civic life can often mean political activism, so his principal authorship of the San José City Charter in the mid-1960s probably came as no surprise to his family and friends. The charter has, ever since, had a sizable impact on local civic policy.

He also founded the Davidson Family Foundation and was one of 11 founding directors (and founding chair) of the Tower Foundation, SJSU’s auxiliary philanthropic organization. Through his support of education, the arts, social and human services and medical research activities, Chuck has had an enduring impact on San José State and the Silicon Valley region. He gave $15 million to SJSU in 2007 and is the largest donor in our university’s history.

Mr. Davidson’s contributions to our College of Engineering, of course, have left an indelible mark on our campus. As our former dean, Belle Wei, wrote in 2008, “Chuck Davidson believes in the college’s mission to enable diverse and promising students to receive a quality, holistic engineering education. His [$15 million] gift will transform the college and help us achieve a new level of excellence in preparing our students to thrive in today’s dynamic and competitive world.”

Our current dean, Sheryl Ehrman, echoes Belle’s earlier comments: “Chuck Davidson’s generosity has indeed transformed the college, supporting programs to improve student success including increasing opportunities for hands-on learning, and enabling advances in research, with direct support for students to work alongside faculty members.”

I was fortunate to spend some time with Chuck since coming to SJSU in 2016. I always found him eager to share his experiences and thoughts about addressing the university’s current challenges, and he offered helpful insights about how we could grow and move forward. His love of all things SJSU was palpable in every conversation we had, and I will forever remember the kind note I received from him just a few weeks ago.

Chuck was also a fervent fan and supporter of SJSU Athletics. Over the past 60 years, he rarely missed a Spartan football game! 

In recognition of his accomplishments and dedication, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and San José State University were proud, in 2014, to confer upon Charles W. Davidson the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Though we mourn his passing, today we celebrate and honor Charles W. Davidson for his extraordinary achievements, contributions and life. He will be missed.


Dr. Mary A. Papazian