Evelyn Davies’ philanthropic philosophy was built by her rich roots in West Texas and a life filled with meaningful interactions with her family and community.
Evelyn Davies sinks into a teal chair in her light-filled living room. She is surrounded by brightly colored furniture and an abundance of Southwestern art, including a large turquoise painting hanging just above her head. Any other person would be swallowed by the rich colors and art in the room, but Davies does anything but shrink into her surroundings.
Her short, almost pixie haircut, which she has had since childhood, has faded from a deep brunette to a silvery gray. Slender and no taller than five-foot, Davies' age and stature are deceiving. Even at 98-years-old, her quick wit, resilient spirit and impressive memory make her the focal point of the room.
These qualities quickly make themselves evident as Davies launches into stories about her family's roots in West Texas and a lifestyle built in the beginnings of West Texas and what would become Texas Tech University.
Roots in West Texas
Davies was born in February 1924 to Clarence Thurston (C.T.) McLaughlin, a prominent oilman, rancher, civic leader and philanthropist in West Texas. McLaughlin was raised in Pennsylvania, but purchased a one-way train ticket to Texas in 1917 looking to pursue a career in the oil industry after serving in the Air Force during World War I.
He started his endeavor as a hand on the oil rig, a job Davies described as “plain hard, dirty, dangerous work.”
Hard work may be an understatement. McLaughlin spent 16 hours a day working on wooden oil rigs in the West Texas heat ever careful to not to lose his balance on the often oily and slippery floors, dodging the swinging cables and pipes. He leased a bed in a boarding house, where he spent the rest of his time.
Davies said her daddy knew he didn't want to be an oilfield hand for the rest of his life. After learning the business, he went into drilling contracting — a career which, while less dangerous, was no less difficult and carried more responsibility.
McLaughlin worked around the clock driving from rig to rig and building connections with ranchers and farmers in the area to discuss leasing their land to “spud” an exploratory rig and see if there was oil.
Building trust with the ranchers was a challenge Davies says as she chuckles recalling that he always carried dog treats in his car because, “while the farmers were not always friendly, their dogs were noticeably hostile.”
McLaughlin drilled in the Permian Basin around Big Spring through the 1920s and 1930s, earning enough by 1935 to purchase a ranch southwest of Snyder. He named it the Diamond M and added acreage as he could. He stocked part of the ranch with Hereford cattle and farmed in other areas.
The Canyon Reef field near Snyder was discovered in 1948, and within a year of that discovery, there was a new producing well being drilled nearly every five days on McLaughlin's property.
Through his hard work and smart investments, McLaughlin built a reputation for skill and reliability and found success in the oil and ranching businesses with prosperous oil fields and cattle ranches in Scurry, Parker and Fisher Counties, all under the Diamond M brand.
Financed through royalties from his oil business and ranch, McLaughlin established the Diamond M Foundation in 1949 and supported various educational and philanthropic activities.
This included helping young men in Snyder bring to fruition their dream of attending college at what was then Texas Technological College.
“He had less interest in girls going to college,” Davies added as a caveat, “but he strongly encouraged young men to attend Texas Tech.”
Davies' father had strong principles and high standards, and he expected the same of the young men he helped attend college. He expected them to be clean-cut, respectable men with the strength to approach him on their own merit.
“If a candidate wasn't strong enough or brave enough to come by himself, he probably wouldn't make a good statement,” Davies said of her father's vetting process. “If you come in with your hair hanging over your ears and your mom leading you by the hand, then you're not going to make it.”
If the young men met the measure of her father's expectations, McLaughlin would give them a suit and $1,000—enough to cover roughly two years of tuition, board and books in the 1930s and 40s.
McLaughlin's connections and prosperity also opened doors for him to serve his community in other ways. These attributes, along with his passion for education, led him to serve on Texas Technological College Board of Directors from 1948 to 1954. He held a strong belief in the necessity of high-quality education, even going so far as to vote against the construction of additional parking lots, because he believed students owning cars would lead to less of a studious environment on campus.
McLaughlin also believed knowledge of the region's history was important to the student body, which led him to commission the Pioneer Mural in Holden Hall by his friend, Peter Hurd, during his tenure. The mural depicts pioneers of the South Plains in the building's rotunda, an ode to the roots of the historic Texas lifestyle.
Growing Her Own Branch
Davies started her own journey at Texas Tech in 1942 as a student in the College of Arts and Sciences. While at Texas Tech, Davies invested herself in the college community by participating in Sans Souci (now Kappa Theta), Foreign Language Club and Book Reviewers.
Texas Tech is also where she met her husband, Gilbert Knox.
Seeming lost in her memory, Davies recalls meeting her would-be husband for the first time on campus. Gilbert was a friend of her roommate's boyfriend, and he had agreed to take Davies on a blind date to the Howdy Dance in downtown Lubbock.
They met in the lobby of her dormitory. As they walked toward downtown, it began to lightly rain. Gilbert took her hand, and Davies laughed as she thought to herself, “Uh oh. I'm in trouble.”
From then on, she and Knox were an item. He would take her to football games and small parties, and they would sit out on the steps of the agriculture building and talk for hours.
“He was serious. He was careful. He was courteous,” Davies said. “I liked everything about him.”
Knox graduated in the spring of 1943 and accepted a job with Westinghouse in Pittsburgh that February. The pair married in August of 1943 on the Diamond M Ranch and moved to Pittsburgh shortly after. Davies' parents insisted she finish college, so while in Pittsburgh, she enrolled in Chathum College and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1944.
Over the course of their marriage Knox was transferred to Baltimore, Maryland, and then to Houston, where they ended up settling down. While in Houston, Davies earned her Master of Arts in English from the University of Houston and began teaching at the university.
Coming Back to her Roots
When Knox unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack in 1977, Davies began visiting the Diamond M Ranch in Snyder on the weekends.
She slowly realized the ranch was not thriving under the joint ownership between the siblings who had inherited all four of her father's properties in Colorado, Texas and New Mexico in 1965.
She made the decision to trade her interest in the other ranches for sole ownership of the Diamond M, move back to Snyder and become the sole owner of the ranch.
“I owned a straw hat and a pistol, and I was a pretty good shot with that Ruger,” said Davies with a smile. “So of course I was fit to the ranch. My children were grown, so there wasn't anything keeping me in Houston. I resigned, sold my house, put my two little dogs in the car and the flatware in the trunk—I drove to Snyder and never looked back.”
Back in Snyder, Davies connected with William “Bill” Davies. Bill's wife was a friend of Davies' and was terminally ill. She called Bill each week to check on him and his wife. When his wife ultimately passed, Davies invited the now thin and tired man to the ranch to rest and recover.
As Bill began spending more time at the ranch, Davies began to grow fonder of him, and she eventually made a proposition.
“I had an intelligent and remarkedly beautiful Great Dane named Miss Fancy Farkle Berry,” Davies said laughing fondly. “I explained to Bill he could have a half interest in her if he married me. He said, ‘Seems fair,' and we married.”
Davies and Bill began to travel. Their first trip was to Alaska, where they spent time visiting locations across the state — “a real adventure at that time” according to Davies. Later, they visited Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Turkey, Finnish Lapland and even Antarctica, where they walked among emperor penguins and elephant seals who had never seen tourists before.
Helping Others Grow
In 1992, Davies sold the ranch. As she and Bill investigated possible choices for a new home, they kept coming back to Lubbock.
“Lubbock had a fine symphony orchestra, a great medical center and little traffic,” Davies said. “It had friendly people and of course many activities associated with the outstanding university. It was a well-run city, and we liked everyone we met.”
Lubbock has been home ever since.
During the 30 years Davies has lived in Lubbock, she has devoted much of her time to the community, from local non-profits to her own foundation. She has been a member of Friends of Music, the Museum of Texas Tech University and the Texas Tech Foundation Board. She also serves on the board of trustees for the Evelyn M. Davies Foundation and the Diamond M Foundation and is a member of the Friends of the Community Foundation of Lubbock.
Davies' was honored with the Mary Nell Strong Community Service Award as one of the 2017 Women of Excellence by YWCA of Lubbock, an organization dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
“Evelyn has been such an asset to our community,” said Jouana Stravlo, executive administrator of the Museum Association of TTU. “She has been a huge blessing to our community in many ways. She is a very strong woman, and I have been so fortunate to get to know her. I think she gives back because of her generous heart. She has been very blessed, and I think her generous personality comes out in helping others or helping organizations. That's just part of her nature.”
Investing in the Future
Davies' generous nature extends out into the Lubbock community and has been transformational at Texas Tech University.
“Texas Tech University is a very important institution,” Davies said. “The future of our students is critical to the health of our nation.”
Her first gift to Texas Tech University was in 1979 when she donated $10,000 to establish the C.T. McLaughlin Endowment for the National Ranching Heritage Center honoring the legacy of her late father and his passion for the ranching community.
In the 43 years since her initial gift, Davies has pledged nearly $5 million to the Texas Tech University System, with funding directed to two universities, five colleges and six programs. Her largest contributions have been to the Museum of Texas Tech University, the College of Human Sciences and the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering.
“Evelyn's impact has been enormous, and the impact she has had on students has changed lives,” said Texas Tech University President Lawrence Schovanec. “I think if we were all to live the model of life that Evelyn has given us, we would probably be more impactful, both personally and professionally. She is an extraordinary person.”
In 1993, Davies and the Diamond M Foundation donated the Diamond M Art Collection to the Museum of Texas Tech University where it is now housed in the Diamond M Gallery. This was followed in 2003 by an extensive collection of Southwest Native American pottery establishing the Evelyn M. and William C. Davies Gallery of American Indian Art at the museum.
Davies' giving journey continued in 2005 to an area which touched her heart — a $250,000 gift establishing the Evelyn M. Davies Regents Endowed Professorship in the College of Human Sciences where it has been used to support the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery.
These gifts were particularly important to Davies because of the impact the program has on students and the caring, kind and determined way those who work for the program conduct themselves.
“It's just so important,” Davies said. “The care those young people receive is changing their lives completely. They now have the kind of help they need and the education, training and comradery of others who have suffered the same situations. When a student goes through this program, the world gets an individual who is educated and ready to take responsibility in the world.”
Most recently, Davies' transformative gifts to the Whitacre College of Engineering have created the Evelyn M. Knox Davies Multipurpose Classroom and established the Evelyn M. Davies Undergraduate Teaching Lab Fund. These gifts also created endowments for the Evelyn M. Knox Davies Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Aerobots Competition and a facility enhancement for the college.
Davies gives to the College of Engineering, because she believes the skills these students learn while in college, and the high schoolers participating in the STEAM program, will be critical to solving the difficult problems face by the nation and world.
“It seems to me that each of us needs to be aware of what is going on in the world and understand that students who take difficult courses in engineering not only need to be congratulated but helped along the way to be the best possible graduates,” Davies said. “This helps not only our community but our nation and has an international effect. If I can do something to improve the education or the physical property that those students need, I want to do that.”
From her roots in West Texas and tenure at Texas Tech as a student to traveling around the world and coming back to Lubbock, Davies dedication to creating a better future has given her more than she could ever imagine.
“Your personal life will be richer the more you interact with your families and your community,” Davies said.