By Alex Owen Davis
My grandfather passed away twenty-seven years before I came into this world. And yet, the connection to him is there – almost as if I’d spent years with him before he died. I can thank the vivid stories, paintings, pictures, sound recordings, letters, poems, and songs that have survived over the years for that. Bob was a giant in the radio industry in the Shenandoah Valley, the state, and the eastern coast. He rubbed shoulders with some of the most star-studded celebrities of his day. But he was also quiet, introverted, and humble when away from the microphone.
His death was tragic. Unexpected. Needless. And yet it happened. Asking ‘why?’ over and over again will never ease the pain of his passing. Only one thing can do that – keeping his memory and his craft alive even though he is dead. So we do. And I hope on this, the 55th anniversary of his passing, I can pull back the curtain just a little bit, and share some of Bob Davis with you.
The following is the tribute that appeared in the newspaper on June 5, 1960:
The tragic death Thursday of Albert Wakefield Davis (Bob Davis was his professional name) has signaled the end of an era in broadcasting here.
The veteran announcer will be buried tomorrow at Asheville, N.C., his birthplace and boyhood home. Buried with him will be the mark of quality and intellectual integrity.
Bob Davis had the all too rare ability to entertain, to be clever on schedule. His talent for broadcasting was said to be equaled by few announcers. He possessed an exceptional command of the English language, coupled with a vocal delivery which was the envy of his colleagues.
His sincerity was evident, whether he was speaking of an idea or a sponsor’s product — and it went unchallenged.
Mr. Davis was known among the professionals as an “excellent air man,” with the ability to handle any type of program or situation. His newscasts were authoritative and bore the stamp of understanding and depth of perception. His taste in music, as in all the arts and in literature, was impeccable. His talents for “putting a show together” were said to be unsurpassed.
A sensitive man, of almost delicate feelings, Mr. Davis excelled in what he undertook and he expected excellence in those around him. He had little patience with mediocrity — in people or in their accomplishments. He loved and respected the superlative. On more than one occasion he was known to verbally lash a record manufacturer from his microphone for what he considered a poor recording or one that was in bad taste.
Mr. Davis took with him to the microphone a wide range of experience, resulting in programs of exceptional depth. His personality and air presentation were generally enhanced through an extensive acquaintanceship with the famous, primarily in the entertainment world.
He knew and loved good books. He had a great feeling for poetry, and was considered an excellent reader. His classical production of “The Vagabond’s House” has drawn wide acclaim and repeated requests for rebroadcast.
Off the air, Mr. Davis was an introvert, who took delight in taking long hikes alone through the woods. He held a sincere fascination for nature and its lore. His depth of feeling was evidenced by the fact that he gave up hunting a number of years ago when a shot fired from his gun failed to kill a deer quickly. Intimates say he was forever after troubled by the memory of the dying sounds uttered by the stricken animal.
But he remained a sportsman. On Nov. 2, 1955, he hit a “hole in one” at Staunton’s Gypsy Hill Golf Course. A horse fancier who knew good horse flesh, he once owned and rode a Palomino. He maintained an elaborate and enviable collection of firearms and knives. He would spend hours at a time working on wood refinishings, mostly driftwood which he gathered to convert into ornamentation.
Mr. Davis enjoyed a reputation as a comic who stressed the ironic. His comedy was of the spontaneous variety rather than that of production. He was one of the best ad lib men in the business and could convert an embarrassing situation into a riotous farce to send listeners into gales of uncontrollable laughter.
It was this ad lib ability and his fondness for speaking his mind, spontaneously as it occurred to him, which often landed him in hot water. But listeners were soon laughing again and not for long remain upset by his antics. He once talked on the air without interruption for an hour and 45 minutes to win a “biggest lie” contest with a colleague.
People here still recall his ride astride a mule from Waynesboro to Staunton in behalf of the March of Dimes. One year he sat for a week on a raft in the middle of the fairgrounds lake without ever coming to shore during the period. All his broadcasts were beamed that week from his watery perch.
Mr. Davis had great respect and affection for the aged and ailing, and he devoted much of his free time to visiting with them, offering the cheer of his vibrant personality.
There are thousands who will remember his major shows: “Bob Davis at Large,” “Starlite Serenade,” and “Curtain Time” . . . In his words, “a conglomeration, a potpouri of warm waxings and cool sides. So if your musical mood needs to be wooed, stay with us as we wax enthusiastic.”
Alex Davis was born and raised in Staunton, Va, and now resides in Radford. Active in his church and community, he currently serves as a vestry member at Grace Episcopal Church, is an assistant at Pulaski Dance Productions, and works insane hours managing the office of DeVilbiss Funeral Home in Radford. He has been involved in Virginia politics for more than 10 years and is a former chairman of the Staunton City Republican Committee and has worked closely with many elected officials including George Allen, Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling, Jim Gilmore, and Chris Saxman. When not politickin’ or dancin’, you can find him pondering all things theological at his blog, ubuntu.