Ann B. Davis had a long and varied career before audiences ever knew her as Alice on The Brady Bunch. But it was as a housemaid to America’s favorite blended family that she became one of the most beloved television characters of her day, and for good reason. Davis played Alice with a deft mix of physical comedy, compassion, and practical problem-solving acumen. She was Dear Abby, Julia Child, and a Lucille Ball-esque character all in one.
Davis, who died on Sunday in San Antonio, was 88 years old and in excellent health before she took a fall at home. Her home, since 1976 (two years after The Brady Bunch ended), was with the Episcopal School for Ministry; at first in Denver, then in San Antonio. Trinity School for Ministry–the seminary at which Ann took classes with her mentor, Episcopal Bishop William Frey–is “an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition;” a unique combination of two threads of Christianity that began in the mid-1970s when some Episcopal leaders sought to correct what they saw as too-liberal theology in their denomination.
Speaking with People in 1992, Davis talked about the religion that meant so much to her: “‘My mother would write letters when I was away at camp and say, “There’s an Ann-shaped space around the house. Nobody fills an Ann-shaped space except an Ann.” I’m convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we’ll never know what it is to be whole,’ she said.”
Davis lived with Frey and his wife for most of her post-Brady life, volunteering at a homeless shelter in Denver and leading Bible studies in San Antonio. She still took the occasional acting role, but mostly, her “priorities had changed.” In 1993, Davis told the Associated Press that she was born-agan. “It happens to Episcopalians,” she said, gently teasing about the denomination’s reputation as more intellectual than emotional. “Sometimes it doesn’t hit you till you’re 47 years old.”
It was the reminder that “you didn’t have to be related to relate,” as television critic James Poniewozik put it, that made Davis’s Alice the kind of person that every viewer wanted in their life, and in that way, she was very much a Christian character. No one, even the kids’ most annoying friends, was outside of Alice’s care. She never took herself too seriously, but did her job with humor and humility. She adopted a family when she started working for Mike Brady and his three sons, and they adopted her right back. Toward the end of the series, Alice announces her engagement to Sam the Butcher. In real life, Davis never wed, but made a full life of her career, her community, and her devotion to the Episcopal church and Christian faith.
There are plenty of ways to remember Ann Davis. I’m watching this video on repeat today. It’s my favorite episode of The Brady Bunch; one of a three-part series in which the family takes a trip to Hawaii (guest-starring Vincent Price!). In this clip, the Bradys are at a luau and must sound the conch (“the horn of brotherhood”) to celebrate. Everyone is cracking up as they go — especially Marcia — but Davis’s expression is so vintage Alice here. Rest in Peace, Ann.