Robert E. Davidson, a longtime advocate for people with mental illness, died Monday. He was 65 and had brain cancer.

Davidson served as the executive director of the Eastern Regional Mental Health Board, based in Norwich, for 14 years until retiring last year.

Davidson was a frequent visitor to the state Capitol complex, where he testified on mental health matters.

But he also tried other ways to show lawmakers about the challenges people with mental illness face. One was to ask legislators who attended the mental health board’s picnics to act as food servers.

Afterward, legislators often remarked to him that people with mental illness sure ate a lot.

Yes, Davidson would answer, it was probably their only meal of the day.

He also helped teach hundreds of people to advocate through legislative trainings.

Davidson, who had a PhD in sociology, worked at the state’s Department of Mental Health and as a case manager for people with serious mental illness before leading the mental health board.

He is survived by his wife, Marjorie Blizard, and a sister and brother. A fund in his name has been created at the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut and will support the Eastern Regional Mental Health Board in advocacy and education on mental health issues.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m., Saturday, March 23, at Temple Emanu-El in Waterford.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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