Michael KreponLisa Owens Davis

Lyric of the week:

And so there’s a rhyme
That says life will soon be fine
Love is just what you make it
So keep on lovin, you’ll soon discover
A mighty love
— The Spinners, “Mighty Love”

Note to readers: Zack Davis relays the following:

Lisa Owens Davis died on February 26 at home in Alameda, Ca. Her story is inspiring, especially for young women seeking to make their mark in the national security world. Lisa was born on the first day of Spring in 1966, at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Spanish literature and a love of languages. She lived in Spain and worked at the Spanish consulate in Los Angeles, which sparked her interest in diplomacy. She taught English in the Czech Republic soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and travelled extensively throughout Eastern Europe and Russia in the days immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Relying on her extraordinary language skills, Lisa made her way across the former Soviet states as one of the first Americans to visit remote towns in Siberia. She camped on Lake Baikal and hitched rides on trains, ships and even hopped a ride on a Soviet military helicopter. Her adventures shaped her career – and made for long conversations during security clearance reviews.

Lisa pursued her masters degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (now Middlebury College) and was one of Bill Potter’s early graduates from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. She was an intern at the International Atomic Energy Agency and later returned to the US Embassy in Vienna to work on nuclear safeguards policy. Upon graduation Lisa worked for Michael Krepon at the Stimson Center and was selected to the Presidential Management Program which enabled her to serve in the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, where she accepted a position managing nuclear safeguards support to the IAEA.

At DOE Lisa led delegations to numerous countries, funded research at the national labs, served as lead DOE representative to the negotiations on the Additional Protocol, and chaired the inter-agency committee on safeguards technology. It was during the latter duty that Lisa met her future husband, Zachary Davis, who was representing the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency on her committee. In 1995 Lisa moved to the State Department and served as chief of staff to Ambassador Norm Wulf, the US Representative to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Ambassador Wulf recalled Lisa’s work in support of the US NPT delegation as “indispensable to achieving success.”

Lisa and Zack returned to their native California to work at Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s Z Division, where Lisa quickly rose through the ranks to manage a wide range of analytic and operational intelligence support programs across the lab. In 2006 she returned to Washington to support innovative inter-agency interdiction efforts, where she earned high praise for building bridges between diplomatic, military, intelligence and technical agencies. In 2015 Lisa founded her own consulting firm to advise a range of government and private sector clients. She will be remembered for her contributions to non and counter proliferation policy and operations.

Lisa was a runner, yoga practitioner, stand up paddler, and hiker. She took delight in literature, especially Spanish language fiction, languages, slapstick comedy, baseball (Go Giants!), soul and disco music, beaches, travel, family and friendships. Her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer came without warning during a family trip to Italy. She is survived by her father Bill Owens of San Clemente, mother Wendy Owens of Oceanside, brother Bill and family of Saipan, sister Sara Madani and family of Santa Ana, her teenage sons Max (19) and Sam (16) and her husband of 20 years Zack, who will miss her every minute of every day.


  1. Michael Krepon (History)


    Beautiful obituary. My sincerest condolences. I will miss her dearly. She was one of a kind.
    May her memory be a blessing.


    Charles J. Ball, Ph.D.
    Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
    For Threat Reduction and Arms Control

  2. Ira G. (History)

    A wonderful person and a great colleague, who took over the US safeguards support program from me when I left DOE for UNVIE Vienna. All of us who knew her are mourning.

  3. Fred McGoldrick (History)


    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I did not know Lisa well but she was always kind and a true professional.

    Fred McGoldrick

  4. Laura S H Holgate (History)


    What a beautiful portrait of an amazing woman — what a difference she made in the world. I am holding you and your family in my heart.

    Laura Holgate

  5. Bob Swartz (History)

    Lisa was a wonderful friend, wife, mother and consummate professional. She had a singular ability to knit people and groups together both in the interagency and globally. We are all poorer for her untimely loss.

  6. Adam Scheinman (History)

    Such a terrible loss and shock. Please accept my sincerest sympathies.

  7. Joe Cirincione (History)

    Zack: I am deeply saddened. Lisa was an angel. And a scholar. And one of the nicest people I have ever known. I feel very sorry for you and your family. Please know that I am thinking of you.

  8. Lewis Dunn (History)

    Dear Zack
    My most heartfelt sympathy. Though only for a little bit, it was my great pleasure to work with Lisa on the NPT “front.” She was such a fine person and colleague. All your many friends are thinking of you.
    Lewis Dunn

    • Feroz Khan (History)

      Lisa was one such person where words are insufficient to describe her absence. Together, Lisa and Zack were power couple, professionals and intellectuals. And together with their boys Max and Sam made such a wonderful loving family. Lisa will be missed by all of us; her warmth, smile; kindness made her such a complete woman. She was family to all of us – the close friends of the Davis family. My family mourns with Zack’s and her family. Zack’s obituary says it all so beautifully; Lisa leaves a legacy and a void that will be so impossible to fill. Thoughts and prayers for the family.

  9. Aryn Weinberg (History)

    Oh Zack, I am so sorry to hear this. Lisa was an inspiration to women in Arms Control & Diplomacy. She was always the most clear, captivating and informative speaker at conferences and her smile lit up the room. I hope our shared community here in Alameda provides the support you and your family needs during this awful time. Please reach out if you need anything.
    Aryn Weinberg

  10. Andrew Winner (History)


    I will write more to you, but my sincerest condolences to you and the boys. Lisa was an incredibly wonderful person, and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to meet her. Anything I can do, anytime, please let me know.

    Drew Winner

  11. Laura Rockwood (History)

    Dear Zack, I remember Lisa well from her time at the IAEA. Young, lively and funny – my heart goes out to you and your boys.
    Laura Rockwood

  12. Tariq Rauf (History)

    Dear Zack,
    Very sorry to hear of your irreparable loss. I fondly remember Lisa from my days at CNS/MIIS. She was a remarkable person and an inspiration to her fellow students and staff. She was always full of good humour and indomitable energy. My best wishes to you and the family at this trying time.
    Tariq Rauf

  13. Sarah Lennon (History)

    I am so utterly saddened to read this. Lisa was such a bright light and ready with a smile. The consummate professional in our field. She and I were part of the Monterey Maiden Mafia” who came to DC through the PMI program and our paths crossed many times at DOE after MIIS. Zach, my thoughts go out to you and your kids and your entire family. Deepest condolences. — Sarah Lennon

  14. Jay Tilden (History)


    I am so sorry to learn of your (and our) sad loss. Lisa was certainly the brightest light in any room and did so with such grace and kindness. May the memories of a life well lived help you through these very difficult times. Jay Tilden

  15. Greg Giles (History)

    I had the absolute pleasure of working with Lisa on a recent NPT project. A consummate professional and team-builder. She was also a natural mentor with a deft touch. A shocking loss to all who knew her. May these testimonials and the reflection that she was doing important work for a noble cause be of comfort to the Davis family at this time.

  16. JONNA E. MURPHY (History)

    We are so very sorry to hear about Lisa’s passing. She was a great lady and wonderful colleague to us both. Her smile and sense of humor was contageous. “Murph” and I both send our sincere sympathy, thoughts and prayers to her family. RIP sweet friend. John and Jonna Murphy

  17. Jonna Murphy (History)

    We are so very sorry to hear about Lisa’s passing. She was a great lady and wonderful colleague to us both. Her smile and sense of humor was contageous. “Murph” and I both send our sincere sympathy, thoughts and prayers to her family. RIP sweet friend. John and Jonna Murphy

  18. Mark Goodman (History)

    I was lucky to work with Lisa and Zack for a few years at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency around the time it was merged into the State Department. Michael Rosenthal hired Lisa away from DOE to continue to lead U.S. technical support for IAEA safeguards, and then Norm Wulf tapped her to lead preparations for the NPT Review Conference in 2000. I took over the safeguards support program as well as backstopping during the Review Conference itself.

    Lisa and Zack were not just great colleagues but true friends. Their wedding at the Jefferson Memorial and the tiki-torch-themed party were joyous and unforgettable. I was sad to seem them leave Washington for their native California, but this gave me a reason to visit them a few times in Alameda.

    Lisa brightened the world wherever she went, and she will long brighten our hears and memories.

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