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John Davidson, patriarch of Siesta Key, dies at age 93

The community leader started Davidson Drugs in 1958, founded and published the Pelican Press and tirelessly served his fellow islanders.

John Davidson inside his store in 2015.
John Davidson inside his store in 2015.
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Pioneer. Entrepreneur. Visionary. Community leader. Tireless.

Those are just a few of the words those who knew him used to describe Siesta Key’s John B. Davidson, 93, who died Monday, Jan. 22, while under hospice care.

He is perhaps best known as the founder of Davidson Drugs in 1958, which at one point operated seven locations on Siesta Key and in Sarasota.

“When he opened the drug store, the island wasn’t that populated,” said Siesta Key resident and County Commissioner Mark Smith. "He built the building and he had a doctor’s office next door, so he was a visionary.”

In addition to providing local retail outlets for the convenience of Siesta Key residents, he was also the founder and publisher of a weekly community newspaper, The Pelican Press, from 1971 to 1998.

“I met John in 1999 after I moved my office from my house into my office in Siesta Village and was getting involved in the village association,” said Smith, an architect by trade. “What struck me about John was his dedication and love for the village and his passion for Siesta Key and its history. I referred to him as the patriarch of Siesta Key.”

Smith leaned on Davidson for guidance while he served as chair of the Siesta Key Association from 2003 to 2008.

“Whenever I needed advice I would go to John because he was just a wealth of knowledge,” Smith said.

An active member of the community who served in leadership positions for multiple organizations, Davidson was also a leading figure in efforts to incorporate Siesta Key into its own municipality rather than being subject to Sarasota County government first in the 1960s, later in the 1990s and most recently beginning in 2021. His efforts led to creation of the Siesta Key Overlay District in 2001.

“We’re not saying the county is bad. What we’re saying is we would be the better stewards of our island,” Davidson said in a 2021 Sarasota Observer story.

"He was such an inspiration. I admired him deeply, and I really wanted the incorporation to be part of his legacy,” said Tracy Jackson, who served alongside Davidson as a member of the Save Siesta Key Board of Directors. “He was one of the largest landowners on Siesta Key, and he never wanted big hotels and that kind of development. I just think that speaks volumes to the type of man that he was.”

Tracy Jackson with John Davidson, with whom she served on the Save Siesta Key Board of Directors.
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His work also inspired Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez, who has led efforts to prevent high-density hotels from being built on the barrier island.

“When I joined the Save Siesta Key Board in 2003, he was on the board and I worked with him until I left in 2011,” Ramirez said. “One thing I have to say is he's a true icon. There are so many things Siesta Key owes him thanks for. He started The Pelican Press. He tried incorporation three times. He opened the first drug store. Everything he did was to try to make Siesta Key more residential friendly.”

Davidson attended Duke University and earned his pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado. During a 1956 vacation in Sarasota, he fell in love with the area and decided to call it home. 

More than independence for Siesta Key and serving customers at his drug stores, Davidson gave of his time and talent to Little League Baseball, the Boy Scouts,  the Selby Foundation as a 17-year trustee, and serving as president of the Argus Foundation and Sarasota Bay Rotary Club, He was also founder and director of Enterprise Bank and was commodore of The Field Club, where he had been an active member for 65 years. 

The Siesta Village location of Davidson Drugs closed in 2023.

“One thing I really miss, especially after they closed the Siesta Village store, is it was like having our own little general store,” Ramirez said. “Instead of going off the key when you needed something like Pepto Bismol it was great to have it there. Having the post office there was really convenient, and then having those little sundries that we could rely on without having to go off the key, especially when traffic was really bad.”

Davidson spent many hours sailing his boat, Equanimity, on Sarasota Bay. His love of photography took him to exotic locations around the world to capture images of wildlife and nature from polar bears in Hudson Bay, Canada, and penguins in Antarctica to encounters with elephants in Africa. 

He spent time at his summer home in the mountains of North Carolina. But it was his time and dedication to Siesta Key that leaves his mark.

“He was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known,” Jackson said. “He worked his entire life. He never stopped working even into his late 80s. He had so much energy.

“He was just one of my favorite people on the planet.”

Davidson is survived by his wife of 43 years, Rita, six children, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He shared a keen interest in sports with the family and closely followed the Gators, Rays, Lightning and Buccaneers. 

A celebration of life for family and friends will be held 2-4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, at The Field Club. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Tidewell Hospice.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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