U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, 57; Fought for Employees' Rights

Jo Ann Davis, shown in 2005, was the first woman Virginia elected to Congress and represented the commonwealth's 1st District for seven years.
Jo Ann Davis, shown in 2005, was the first woman Virginia elected to Congress and represented the commonwealth's 1st District for seven years. (By Eva Russo -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 7, 2007

Jo Ann Davis, 57, a four-term Republican member of Congress from southeastern Virginia who was known for looking out for the interests of federal employees, died of breast cancer Oct. 6 at her home in Gloucester.

Mrs. Davis's cancer was diagnosed in 2005 and recurred this year. She underwent chemotherapy and a mastectomy and often monitored congressional hearings from home.

A former real estate broker and member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Mrs. Davis represented the 1st District, which stretches from Washington's southernmost suburbs to Newport News. It includes about 700,000 people, including 40,000 active and retired federal workers and almost a dozen major military installations, including Quantico Marine Corps Base and Langley Air Force Base.

She defeated four opponents in the 2000 Republican primary and became the first Republican woman from the commonwealth elected to Congress. A conservative who supported the war in Iraq, she won the chairmanship of the House subcommittee that deals with federal workers' benefits. She stepped down from that post in 2004 to join the House Intelligence Committee. More recently, she was a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

Her first piece of legislation, passed by the House in 2001, increased the life insurance benefit paid to survivors of military members killed on duty. She pushed the Bush administration to improve dental and vision benefits for employees, to speed up federal hiring procedures and to create a more equitable system for compensating federal law enforcement officers.

She supported "pay parity" raises for the civil service and sponsored legislation that increased student loan reimbursements for federal employees. She sponsored the bill that revamped personnel rules at (and changed the name of) the Government Accountability Office.

Mrs. Davis was a key player in the legislation creating the Defense Department's new personnel system. She insisted on legislative safeguards aimed at protecting basic employee rights and urged the Pentagon to provide a fair appeals process to employees facing discipline.

One of her pet issues was the $48 million she got to remove the "ghost fleet" of dilapidated ships, many with fuel on board, in the James River off Newport News.

Social issues were not her focus, she said, but she co-sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and she introduced a bill that would have required women who go to family planning clinics to get information about adoption. She also sought to pass legislation keeping U.S. servicewomen from having abortions at military-funded facilities.

Mrs. Davis was born in Rowan County, N.C., and attended Hampton Roads Business College. She obtained her real estate license in 1984 and her real estate broker's license four years later. In 1990, she opened Jo Ann Davis Realty. She was first elected to public office in 1997 as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Survivors include her husband, Chuck Davis, a battalion chief for the Hampton Fire Department; two sons, Christopher and Charles Davis, both of Virginia; and a granddaughter.

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