Dr. Mary Ellen Dolcini, a fourth generation native of Davis, died on April 30, 2018. A fighter until the very end, she was 91. She was a member of one of Yolo County’s pioneer families and was born and raised in Davis, the fourth of six children born to Valente F. Dolcini and June Plant Dolcini. She is survived by her sister Carol Bergstrom (Ron) of Lincoln, her sisters-in-law Marge Dolcini of Davis and Nancey Dolcini of Galt, 26 nieces and nephews, and many friends and colleagues from the diverse chapters of her accomplished life. Known variously as Dr. Dolcini, Mary Ellen, or simply, Aunt Dede, she will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved her.
A proud alumna of Davis public schools, she graduated from Davis High School in 1944, serving as both valedictorian and commencement speaker for her graduating class. She received a scholarship to UC Berkeley where she graduated with honors in 1948 receiving a degree in Latin American studies. She stayed for an additional year and earned a secondary teaching credential. After teaching for one year at Tahoe-Truckee High School, she returned to academia where she was awarded a Master’s Degree in School Administration from San Francisco State University along with an elementary teaching credential. She then taught for four years at Mira Vista School in Albany, CA.
She began her long and distinguished career with the Davis Joint Unified School District when she was hired in 1954 to teach a combined 5th and 6th grade class at East Davis School (formerly Valley Oak Elementary). From there, she became the Principal of the new North Davis School (under construction in a wheat field) where she also served as the morning kindergarten teacher. She returned to East Davis School and served for five years as principal before returning to UC Berkeley where she received a Doctorate in Education in 1964. Her subsequent years of service to the DJUSD included stints as Principal of Emerson Jr. High School, an appointment as Associate Superintendent for Instruction, and a final assignment at North Davis Elementary where she served as Principal for the last ten years of her career in public education. She retired in 1990.
She was recognized by her peers as a state and national leader in educational policy issues and she served the California Teachers Association, the National Education Association, and the National Association for Accreditation of Teacher Education Programs in a number of leadership positions over the long course of her career. She traveled extensively and served as an ambassador for American education in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere throughout the world. A fluent Spanish speaker until her death, Mary Ellen visited nearly every country in central and South America over the course of her life, beginning with an overland bicycle journey through Mexico in 1951. In the spring of 1965, she joined other citizens of Davis on a “Freedom Ride” to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, in support of Dr. Martin Luther King’s efforts to pass the Voting Rights Act, and she joined other educators in visiting the People’s Republic of China shortly after President Nixon’s 1972 visit which paved the way for other “citizen diplomats” to make similar visits in the years that followed.
Believing firmly that no one nation should dictate policies or programs to others, Mary Ellen was a dedicated citizen of the world and she maintained an active interest in international affairs until her death. She was an active member of the United Nations Association of Davis and served as its president for a long period of time. She was also one of the founders of the Davis International House. In the early 1980s, she was appointed by the Davis City Council to serve on a fact-finding mission to Nicaragua, to seek the truth regarding the Contra wars and report these findings to the citizens of Davis. She served on numerous local commissions, task forces, and other civic organizations, and in 1995 she was awarded the A.G. Brinley award for special contributions to the Davis community. In 2016, she was inducted into the Davis Senior High School Hall of Fame.
From the time of her baptism, she was a devoted member of St. James Catholic Church and she served her faith with a deep devotion over the course of her life, including service as the first layperson elected to chair the St. James Pastoral Council.
Known for her keen intellect, wonderful sense of humor, and superb skills as a storyteller, she was first and foremost a devoted and loving daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to all who had the good fortune to know her, and her legacy as an educator, engaged citizen, and active humanitarian will be deeply felt by her community and her world. In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her sisters, Claire Guichard and Jeanne Bailey, her brothers Albert and Val Dolcini, and her nephews, Gregory Porter and Michael Dolcini.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. James Catholic Church in Davis on May 18 at 11am.