TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A legendary singer, and a retired leader in the railroad industry were honored Friday night as Kansans of the Year.
Marilyn Maye and former Union Pacific chairman and CEO Dick Davidson earned this year's awards from the Kansas Native Sons and Daughters organization. The pair were guests of honor at the group's annual banquet at the Maner Conference Center in Topeka Friday night.
Maye earned national television exposure by appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 76 times. Her accomplishments began by winning a talent search where the grand prize was her own weekly show on WIBW Radio. She lived in Topeka during the time she was six to 12 years old, and occasionally offered a rendition of "Happy Birthday" to Governor Robert Docking.
Dick Davidson is a native of Allen, Kansas and a Washburn University graduate. After 18 years in railroads, he landed in the Kansas and Nebraska halls of fame and is currently director of the Chesapeake Energy Corporation.
News release from Native Sons and Daughters:
Topeka, Kan. – Marilyn Maye, musical theatre actress and cabaret singer, and Dick Davidson, retired railroad executive, will be honored as Kansans of the Year at a dinner hosted by the Native Sons and Daughters on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 in the Sunflower Ballroom in the Maner Conference Center adjacent to the Capitol Plaza Hotel on the grounds of the Kansas Expocentre.
Native Sons and Daughters is dedicated to preserving Kansas history, upholding the heritage of pioneer ancestors, encouraging youth to embrace Kansas ideals and honoring outstanding citizens. Whether a Kansas citizen native or not, all are invited to join the organization.
A native of Wichita, Marilyn Maye was a star by age 11 when she was selected for a 13-week appearance on “The B’rer Fox” show on WIBW radio. She starred in her own radio program while in high school in Iowa and later became a staff vocalist for a radio station in Kentucky, where she performed with a full orchestra and forged her path as a nightclub entertainer.
Maye’s big break came in the mid-1950s when TV entertainer Steve Allen saw her perform at a supper club in Kansas City, Mo. Appearances on his NBC variety show netted her a recording contract, which resulted in seven albums and 34 singles. Her career was further boosted in 1966, when Ed McMahon arranged a performance on “The Tonight Show,” on which she would appear 76 times. For the next two decades, she lived in Kansas City and commuted to work at top clubs, including the Copacabana in New York City and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas before transitioning to musical theatre productions, such as “Can Can,” “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly” in the 1970s.
In addition to a Distinguished Arts Award from the Kansas Arts Commission, Maye holds the Jazz Heritage and the Elder Statesmen of Jazz awards and was declared an Official Jazz Legend by The American Jazz Museum. She is listed as one of the Best Performers of the Best Compositions of the 20th Century by The Arts Council of The Smithsonian Institution for her recording “Too Late Now.”
Dick Davidson began his railroad career as an 18-year-old brakeman/conductor with Missouri Pacific Railroad and held various positions of increasing authority before being named vice president of operations in 1976. In 1982, Union Pacific merged with the Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific railroads, and in 1986, he was promoted to vice president of operations of the combined railroads. He was promoted to executive vice president in 1989 and became chairman and chief executive officer of Union Pacific Railroad in 1991. He was named chairman and chief executive officer of Union Pacific Corporation in 1997. He stepped down as CEO in 2006 and retired as chairman in 2007.
Davidson currently serves as director of the Chesapeake Energy Corporation and of the Impala Asset Management and sits on the board of advisors of HCI Equity Capital Partners. In 2002 he was named to the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans and is a member of the Kansas Business Hall of fame and the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame.
He formerly served on the board of the Association of American Railroads, as chairman of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council and as a director and as a trustee of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Awards Foundation and the Washburn University Endowment Association.
A 1966 graduate of Washburn University, Davidson, a native of Allen, Kan., was awarded an honorary doctorate of commerce degree by his alma mater in 1984. He also has completed the Program for Management Development at Harvard University.