Martha Lou Davis

Date of Birth

August 20th, 1953

Date of Death

October 8th, 2014

Memorial Meeting

Santa Fe Monthly Meeting


Born August 20, 1953 in Dallas, OR, passed away October 8, 2014 in Los Alamos, NM. In a life characterized by love and caring for her family and others, she moved often, and in each new home left a double legacy: a ready participation in her Quaker meeting and a passion to make the natural world more sustainable and beautiful.

Martha grew up in Willamette Valley Quarterly Meeting and attended Salem and Corvallis Monthly Meetings with her parents Paul and Crystalle Davis and sister Joy. After completing high school in Corvallis, she attended Earlham College for a year before returning to the University of Oregon where she received her degree in biology. She worked for the U. S. Forest Service in central Oregon before going  to the University of Colorado to earn her Ph.D. in biology. As her thesis project Martha chose to study populations of Douglas fir trees, so that she could work mostly in the field and not in the lab. While in Colorado, she was a member of Boulder Monthly Meeting and served as recording clerk; she was active in Young Friends of North America during her graduate school days. After a postdoctoral position at Ohio University (she attended Athens Monthly Meeting), Martha accepted a teaching position at the University of Michigan - Flint.  

In 1987, she married Jonathan Thron (whom she had met while in graduate school in Colorado) under the care of the Boulder meeting. Jonathan was a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory and she moved to the Chicago area to be with him. Martha was active in Downers Grove (IL) Monthly Meeting for many years. She is remembered there “for her care for ill Friends and for her skill as clerk, understanding all concerns and beautifully capturing the sense of the meeting.” She was a proponent of native plantings for around the meetinghouse, once again putting into action her concern for the health of the environment.

While in the Chicago area, she taught briefly at Northwestern University and then focused her attention on horticulture, both educating and creating. She gave presentations to many area garden clubs and organizations and taught classes through the Morton Arboretum’s education department. In 1990, Martha and Jonathan bought a house in Bolingbrook, and she proceeded to transform its yard with retaining walls and a fishpond and by enriching the soil and planting a variety of unusual trees and shrubs.

When Jonathan’s work took him regularly to northern Minnesota, Martha often went along to pursue nature photography. She photographed animals, landscapes, water, and ice formations, and later published some of her photos. Martha also combined art and her interest in the natural world with the exquisite ceramic bowls she made with leaf imprints. A voracious reader, Martha’s tastes went well beyond horticulture and she read mysteries, fantasy, and the latest non-fiction. And Martha combined horticulture with cooking, teaching others how to use the fruits, vegetables, and herbs she grew.

In 2005, Martha and Jonathan moved to Los Alamos, NM for his new job.  Again, she bloomed where she was planted. That is, she immediately researched xeriscaping and permaculture, and their home and large yard became a model for low-water and indigenous plantings, water catchment and storage. Martha taught classes at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center, and she worked at the Alcalde Sustainable Agriculture Science Center monitoring and selecting jujube trees that would do well in New Mexico. Martha’s skill in fruit tree grafting (e.g., over 100 varieties on a handful of trees in her backyard) was acknowledged when she was asked to teach the Oklahoma National Guard some of her techniques so they could go to Afghanistan and show farmers there how to improve their yields. Weeks before her death, Martha was able to attend a ceremony at the Los Alamos Master Gardeners’ demonstration garden where its fruit tree grove was named “Martha’s Orchard.”

Upon her arrival in New Mexico, Martha became active in Santa Fe Monthly Meeting and Los Alamos Worship Group until illness slowed her involvement. She served on the Ministry and Counsel Committee and was involved in other meeting events and ongoing activities. Recognizing Martha’s kindness and wisdom, one Friend referred to Martha as “a true Quaker elder.”

Martha was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and used her research background to evaluate and understand treatment options. She embraced alternatives as long as they had a scientific basis. Until her death on October 8th, 2014 she was steadfast in her own care and connecting with the many friends she had cultivated. She is survived by husband Jonathan, sister Joy Ragsdale, sisters-in-law Penelope Thron-Weber and Karin Thron, brothers-in-law Peter Thron and Rajinder Thron, and nieces and nephews.