Compassion’s Champion

The Davis community mourns the loss of David Breaux, ’95.

July 2023

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David Breaux sitting on his compassion bench

PEACE, LOVE, AND UNDERSTANDING: Breaux, who asked passersby their definition of compassion, inspired the city to build a bench. Photo: Sue Cockrell/Davis Enterprise

It’s hard to think about. David Henry Breaux, ’95, was a serene, forgiving, often unhoused man cherished by the community he elevated with his single-minded dedication to compassion. On April 27, he was stabbed to death on a park bench where he often slept. It was the first of three outdoor stabbings in a week that shook the city of Davis, Calif., claiming the lives of Breaux and a UC Davis student, Karim Abou-Najm, and wounding 64-year-old Kimberlee Guillory while she was sleeping. (A suspect has been apprehended.)

Breaux was an urban studies major, appeared in Centennial Gaieties, and worked at Stanford Sierra Camp. After graduation, he made the finals of a screenwriting contest but did not pursue a career in the field.

In Davis, Breaux was known as the Compassion Guy. For the past 14 years, he stood on a downtown corner and asked passersby to write their definition of compassion in his notebook. In 2011, he turned their answers into a book, Compassion: Davis CA. Two years later, he inspired the city to build a Compassion Bench, and shortly after that, he went on a Compassion Tour funded by the Davis community.

“He was so genuinely interested in the search for knowledge,” says Yolo County supervisor Lucas Frerichs, a former Davis mayor who helped build the Compassion Bench.

‘If I’m ever harmed and unable to speak for myself, forgive the perpetrator and help others forgive that person.’

Breaux’s journey to becoming the Compassion Guy began in 2008, when he was experiencing depression after the end of a relationship. Heeding religion scholar Karen Armstrong’s call for a Charter of Compassion, he gave away his car and most possessions and moved from Oakland to Davis to live with a friend. He couch-surfed, stayed in friends’ spare rooms, became homeless, and declined offers of housing until shortly before his death, when he was getting ready to move into a local shelter.

His sister, Maria Breaux, ’91, calls him “the sweetest, most gentle, most chill person I knew.”

He was also forgiving. Breaux’s father physically abused him, Maria, and their mother, who had schizophrenia, Breaux wrote in a post on Medium in 2016. Yet when his father was in poor health and asked Breaux to come home to Duarte, Calif., to take care of him, he did.

Also in 2016, he wrote a telling message to Maria: “If I’m ever harmed and unable to speak for myself, forgive the perpetrator and help others forgive that person.”

Maria says she will carry on his legacy by doing exactly that.

Bill Ainsworth, ’83, is a former reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune and a former resident of Davis, Calif. Email him at

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