UC Davis Chancellor Gary May at Rally

Looking Back on a Year of Hospitality and Heat Waves

I didn’t quite know what to expect of Davis when my wife, LeShelle, and I moved here a year ago from Atlanta. How would the Davis community take to “outsiders”? How would we lifelong urbanites take to a college town surrounded by farmland?

I am happy to say we have felt nothing but warmth — then and now — and I mean that in more ways than one. It was 108 degrees or so during our first two weeks. On Aug. 1, 2017, my first day on the job, I joked that UC President Janet Napolitano had called for a UC Davis chancellor who could take the heat. I guess I had a different understanding of what exactly that meant.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get used to the Sacramento Valley’s oven temperatures, but LeShelle and I couldn’t be happier to be here. These are just a few reasons why:

You sure are a welcoming bunch

The Mays know “Southern hospitality” quite well after two decades in Atlanta. But, from almost the moment we pulled into Davis, we’ve never experienced so many exceptionally warm welcomes. No matter where we go, whether it’s to grab a bite to eat or run errands around town, people take the time to say “hello” and make us feel at home. Our out-of-town friends remark on this when they visit, that everyone around Davis seems to smile as you pass by.

You come together as a community

My role as chancellor took a fairly serious turn within just a couple weeks on the job. I was asked to speak in Davis’ Central Park at a Unity Rally following the racial violence in Charlottesville. Despite these polarized times, what I saw in downtown Davis was a group of residents, young and old, from all kinds of backgrounds, all showing solidarity against hate.

I’ve also seen locals join forces to distribute food for people in need, march in support of immigrants and run a 5K fundraiser to help fellow students get by. It’s clear that Davis is a community that cares.

You don’t stop moving

I knew of Davis’ outdoorsy reputation, but it’s a whole other deal to see this in action. I sometimes feel like I’m living in an REI catalog with all manner of outdoors equipment strapped to the backs and tops of vehicles. Davis is one big outdoor gym, with so many bicyclists, runners, soccer and tennis players filling the streets, the trails, courts and parks. LeShelle has especially come to love the miles of running paths around town.

I, too, have been on the move just about every day, meeting with our UC Davis community, sharing ideas with regional leaders, learning more about the incredible work being done around campus — and even taking students downtown occasionally for “Chancellor’s movie night.”

You have great taste

I mean this in the most literal sense. We’re surrounded by some of the world’s best produce. Beyond the Davis Farmers Market, we have a global selection of restaurant options, from pad Thai to shepherd’s pie. And if you enjoy a glass of wine, like LeShelle and I do from time to time, you’re really in the right place.

Whether it’s a sample of off-dry riesling at downtown’s Vini Wine Bar, or bringing back a bottle of cabernet sauvignon from a day trip to Napa, Davis is the perfect spot to appreciate those grapes.

You mix small-town charm with big-time thinking

Our icon isn’t a bell tower, or an Eiffel Tower, but a water tower. And we’re doing some incredible things. On campus, in research parks and around town, we’re developing critical technologies in health, agriculture, environmental sustainability and much more. Great minds and big ideas are all over Davis.

What I’ve learned in my first year is that Davis residents care deeply about their community and want to see UC Davis and its chancellor be successful. I want to thank the community for being such a warmly welcoming place, for accepting me and for having shared vision for where we think we need to go.

The Mays are happy campers here, and we’ll keep sinking our roots in the community. See you around town!

Chancellor Gary S. May’s column appears first in The Davis Enterprise the first Friday of every month and in Dateline UC Davis.