Virginia Davies"Coming back to the law school has been extraordinary. Intellectually, it's wonderful to be here." So says Virginia Davies, Class of '79, with great animation as we sip a cup of breakfast tea in her sunny midtown Toronto home. Indeed, after chatting amiably for over an hour, it's hard to imagine Davies as less than animated about anything, a trait that has taken her in various directions professionally since she graduated 24 years ago. But in the fall of 2001 - and in conventional terms, in mid-career - she returned to Flavelle House, first to complete an LLM, and then recently to begin work on an SJD. Anyone who has ever embarked upon a graduate degree of any sort will tell you that such decisions are not taken lightly. So the obvious question is why, or at least why now?

For Davies, the most exciting thing about coming back to U of T is that it presented her with "a terrific white piece of paper opportunity," she says. The old idea of tabula rasa, is, of course, highly appealing to most people. The thought of starting something new and fresh has an enduring appeal and Davies is the first to admit that she's always found such opportunities irresistible. The first of them came in 1976. Just two years into her undergraduate arts program at Trinity College she was admitted to law school. Though barely 20 years old, she happily crossed Philosopher's Walk and began three years at the Faculty, a time that she loved. "My law school years were both intellectually stimulating and emotionally nurturing," remarks Davies. Many professors from those days stand out in her mind, although most vivid is that of the late, inimitable, Alan Mewitt, "who was both challenging and vastly entertaining, the most entertaining prof I've ever had," she says with a laugh.

 For Davies, her original law school years impressed upon her the conviction that a legal education could be used in a variety of ways. Upon graduation, that meant first going to the federal Justice Department. She remained there until 1988, a period of time that included living in Edmonton and working on the landmark case that resulted in the Supreme Court's striking down of the Lord's Day Act in 1985. Then it was back to Toronto and, after a short hiatus, plunging into the world of tax law and banking at a time when the field was expanding rapidly. She went to the TD Bank, and among other things took computer training - computer training in the summer of 1988! - and then the next year went over to the Bank of Montreal to become its senior tax lawyer, which came with an executive appointment. Seven years at BMO were followed by a couple of years at Goldman Sachs in New York and then, from 1999 until 2001, a move to the United Nations Foundation as Vice President, Development and Capital Partners.

For Davies, these various career shifts have allowed her to pursue clear avenues of interest, and, she says humbly but with conviction, to try and be "an agent of change." At the UN, for example, one of the main projects on which she worked was polio eradication. She has since undertaken a number of other projects including overseeing the financing of small business enterprises for women in South America. Impressed by these and other achievements, Chatelaine magazine named Davies Woman of the Year in 2000. For the law school, she has hosted a number of New York-based alumni events and serves on the Strategic Development Board. Intellectually, Davies' years in banking and finance and at the UN demonstrated to her the prominence and importance of non-profit organizations in society. And so at U of T her ongoing graduate work consists of a comparative study of the tax law of the non-profit area in Canada, the US and the UK.

Virginia Davies' wide experience and various interests mean that while she's not sure what might come next in her professional life, "I'm sure there will be something." Her LLM will be conferred in November and she has completed the course work for the SJD. "We live in a great country," she says as our conversation comes to an end too soon, along with the tea. "I've received a great deal from my community, which includes the law school, and I want to give something back."

by Brad Faught