On Dec. 5, William “Bill” Davidson would have been 100 years old. Davidson was one of the all-time great leaders and philanthropists from Detroit’s Jewish community.
I never met the man, and I dearly wish I would have had the honor to do so. Nearly every day, however, I think of Bill Davidson. This is because I so often enter the online archive named for him, the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, which the Davidson Foundation generously funded. To say the least, at the Detroit Jewish News, we are extremally grateful for his legacy of giving. We also know we do not stand alone in our sentiments.
On Dec. 5, William “Bill” Davidson would have been 100 years old. Davidson was one of the all-time great leaders and philanthropists from Detroit’s Jewish community. He was not only an extremely gifted businessman, who developed one of the top global suppliers to the automotive industry, but Davidson also used much of his wealth to do good in Metro Detroit, America and Israel.
In the Davidson Archive, I found 1,317 pages that cite William Davidson, including 15 cover pages; 297 of those pages cite “Bill” Davidson. A few references are for other William Davidsons, but when searching for “Bill” Davidson, he is the one and only. The title of a documentary film made by his son, Ethan, says it all: “Call Me Bill” (April 4, 2019, JN). I’ll honor his wishes going forward in this column.
Bill has a large presence in the historical pages of the JN. The number of mentions of him are only surpassed by another legendary Jewish Detroit leader, Max Fisher.
While Bill was a really great businessman, he never forgot his heritage, his community or Israel. Indeed, I can only refer to a meager few of his good works because to cite them all would take pages and pages … and more pages.
Just pick a subject and you’ll likely find Bill’s name attached to it. For example, take sports. Bill owned several professional sports teams, including Detroit’s National Basketball Association team, the Detroit Pistons. He was the chief developer of the Palace of Auburn Hills, the longtime home for the Pistons, which was also one of Detroit’s premier concert arenas for many years. Bill was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and was one of the first inductees into the Michigan Jewish Sport Hall of Fame in 1985.
Now try education. Bill sought to strengthen Judaism through education. See “Champion of Learning,” the cover story for the May 12, 2005, JN.
Support for Israel? See the story about Technion University naming an MBA program after Bill (July 15, 2021) or the substantial report “Bill’s Dreams Live On” in the Oct. 11, 2012, issue of the JN.
For a comprehensive report on Bill’s massive philanthropic efforts, read “Down-to-Earth Philanthropist” in the March 19, 2009, JN. The article is accompanied by JN editor Robert Sklar’s tribute to Bill, “The Amazing Mr. D.”
Bill’s legacy does live on. The proof of this for us at the Jewish News Foundation is the generous funding provided by the Davidson Foundation for the creation of the online archive named in his honor.
Bill’s legacy is tremendous. He was a mensch of the highest order. I hope I honor his memory every week when I use the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History for my Looking Back columns.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.