Deceased July 9, 2018
Jacksonville, Fla., businessman, civic leader and philanthropist David M. Hicks died unexpectedly on July 9, 2018, at his summer retreat near Vail, Colo. David is survived by Ann Curry Hicks, his wife of 58 years, by their two married daughters and a married son, and by 10 grandchildren as well as by David’s three surviving brothers.
Born in Nashua, N.H., the second of five boys, David spent his youth in Worcester, Mass., where his father was in manufacturing.
David came to Amherst from Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Mass., where he was a nationally ranked high school tennis player. In 1952, he and his father were national champions in father and son doubles tennis. In addition to starring in tennis, David was an outstanding baseball player, throwing two no-hitters for the the Governors. He was the initial recipient of the Governor’s Academy all-around athletics award.
At Amherst, where he majored in economics and pledged Alpha Delta Phi, David was an outstanding athlete, annually earning freshman numerals or varsity letters in each of three sports, soccer, squash and tennis. His senior year he was captain of all three teams and All New England in soccer. His fraternity brother Peter Fernald ’58 describes David as gritty, talented and highly competitive. Moe Wolff ’58 recalled David’s leadership ability as he coached and inspired his teammates in difficult matches. Peter also recalled David’s joie de vivre, enjoying a beer or two with the brothers at the house on Saturday nights.
After graduating from Amherst, David got his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1960. While in graduate school, he married Ann Curry (Mt. Holyoke ’59). Ann was from Jacksonville, and David wrote in our 25th reunion book, she persuaded him that “Jacksonville was a great place to live and to play tennis.”
And, apparently, to prosper. In 1960 David started with mortgage banking firm Stockton, Whatley, Davin. In 1967 he left that firm to found Computer Power Inc., a software and communications-based company that used software he designed to process residential mortgage loans. At Computer Power, his management style was to assign a task and let the employee “run with it.” He also instituted a profit sharing plan in which employees received 25 percent of the profits. Starting with 10 employees, over the next 25 years he grew the company to the point where it employed 1,100 people and achieved a dominant market share, processing 43 percent of all U.S. mortgages.
After selling the firm twice and repurchasing it once in leveraged buyouts, David retired from that business (although he chaired other successful startups) and began his second career as a civic leader and philanthropist, focusing on providing affordable quality housing for low income groups and creating educational opportunities for people in public housing.
As a civic leader, David served for seven years as the chair of the Jacksonville Housing Authority, achieving significant improvements in public housing by restructuring and reorganizing the board, instituting strict accountability and controls, renovating substandard apartments and improving management and reporting systems, resident services and crime prevention activities.
David also worked closely with HabJax, the Jacksonville branch of Habitat for Humanity, which became the number 1 Habitat affiliate in the country, building 70 homes in 1997 and 100 in 1998 according to our 25th reunion book.
With regard to education, in 1996 David and Ann Curry Hicks, his partner in their philanthropic activities, originated and funded the Pathways to Success Scholarship program at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. This innovative program provides a way for students in HabiJax and public housing to attend UNF.
In 2015, inspired by their experiences at Amherst and Holyoke, David and Ann endowed the Hicks Honors College at UNF with $7 million. It provides a unique interdisciplinary living and learning experience for highly qualified UNF students. “In all my years of affiliation with UNF, I have wanted to establish a small Amherst College in the midst of our vibrant university. It’s the best of both worlds for the honors students,” David said. Ann added, “These high achievers have the benefit of small classes and intimate learning experiences, while participating in the dynamic atmosphere of the larger university. Of utmost importance, the honors students will graduate without the burden of debt, which might have been incurred had they chosen a prestigious private university. Our goal is to have their education comparable to that of top-tier institutions.”
While public housing and education were their primary passions, the Hicks have also contributed to and served on the boards of numerous foundations and charities at both the local and national level. A room at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens is named after them. David served on the board of the Smithsonian National History Museum, while Ann is president of the Board of Trustees of the Jacksonville Art Museum.
Retired UNF president John Delaney emphasized that David and Ann got personally involved in the causes they supported. “They really just weren’t people who wrote a check and walked away,” he wrote. Ann was quoted as saying, “We were the perfect partnership. We shared the same goals and passions for our family and our city, and we thoroughly enjoyed working together.”
Ned Megargee ’58