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Local leaders reflect on former Mayor Richard Davis
Davis remembered as visionary who loved his city
Mayor Richard Davis
Former Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis

Richard Davis, Richmond Hill’s longest serving and likely it’s most colorful mayor, died Sunday morning at his home. He was 87. 

His death was announced by the city he served as an elected official for 31 years, first as a city councilman and then as mayor from 1989 to 2010.  

Richmond Hill’s current mayor, Russ Carpenter, called Davis “a visionary leader who transformed our city.” 

“One can’t enjoy J.F. Gregory Park without thinking of him,” Carpenter continued. “Or attend the Seafood Festival, which he helped start.” 

Davis, a life-long Bryan Countian who spent his first few years in Clyde on what is now Fort Stewart before moving to Richmond Hill where he went to school, raised a family and built a business, was a driving force behind efforts to bring new businesses and residents to the community. It was an effort that was successful.  

He told the Bryan County News in 2008 he was a proponent of growth in part because it was unavoidable given Richmond Hill’s location on the Georgia coast and its proximity to Savannah. 

“If people are anti-growth and don’t want to be around people, they should make plans to go somewhere else,” he said at the time. “Not just here, but all the way around the country. Growth isn’t just coming to coastal Georgia, it’s going on everywhere on the coast.” 

Davis, who could be irascible at times, didn’t shy away from confronting those who criticized Richmond Hill.  

In 2009, when Retired Col. Dick Kent, a highly decorated combat veteran and one-term chairman of the Bryan County school board, placed a homemade billboard on I-95 north in Florida urging motorists to avoid stopping in Richmond Hill due to city welcome signs proclaiming it “A Henry Ford City,” Davis refused to budge. 

 “He could put up signs all across America and we’re not going to take the signs down,” Davis said. 

Kent, who was Jewish and mounted a one-man campaign to try to have the name changed to “Henry Ford’s Winter Home” or something similar, pointed to documentation showing Ford was anti-Semitic.   

Davis said Ford, who practically built Richmond Hill in the 1930s and became the city’s largest employer, made mistakes, but “it doesn’t remove what he did for Richmond Hill and for the world for that matter. I don’t know how Dick was raised, but I was raised to forgive people for their mistakes.”
Davis faced opposition among those who thought the city was growing too fast. He told the Bryan County News he didn’t listen to skeptics.  

When Davis announced in 2009 he wouldn’t seek another four years as mayor – and Richmond Hill’s charter has since been amended to limit mayors to serving two consecutive terms -- he told the Bryan County News he decided to get into politics in 1962, when he went “door to door getting signatures on a petition to get Richmond Hill incorporated, so I’ve been a part of this city from day one.” 

And as such he was an advocate for Richmond Hill above all else, but he brought a lot of good to Bryan County, according to longtime Pembroke Mayor Judy Cook.  

“He was a mayor who cared about his community,” she said. “The projects he would spearhead, such as J.F. Gregory Park and the Seafood Festival, he did so because he could see how much of a benefit they would be to the community. And some of those projects, like the Seafood Festival, benefitted the whole county.” 

Cook added, “he fought for his community. A good mayor will put his city’s citizens first, and he did that.” 

Carpenter, a life-long Richmond Hill resident, said Davis “was tireless in fighting for what he thought best for Richmond Hill. His impact can’t really be described. We will miss “The Mayor.’” 

Davis in 2009 told the Bryan County News that he didn’t worry about how he’d be judged by history, “because I’ve been there and done that.” 

He told a reporter at that time, “I love Richmond Hill. Out of the 47 years we’ve been a city, I’ve been a part of it for 31 years. When I first came on city council in 1978, there were about 1,800 people in Richmond Hill. Now there’s about 11,000-12,000.” 

Though he deferred credit for city operations to city employees, among the accomplishments Davis said he was proudest of was building a new wastewater treatment facility in Sterling Creek, which was outgrown in the 2010s and has since been replaced, and bringing the Bryan County Health and Rehabilitation Center to Richmond Hill. 

He was also proud of getting the long-distance toll removed from calls to Savannah, lowering taxes and building the current city hall, which is fronted by a street which bears his name. 

Former Richmond Hill City Manager Mike Melton, who spent 15 years in that role serving primarily under Davis, said in a 2012 letter to the editor that Davis “epitomizes the definition of a mayor.” 

“Richmond Hill has never had a finer mayor and probably never will,” Melton continued. “Richmond Hill is the community it is today because of the foresight and vision of former Mayor Richard R. Davis. Hopefully, someday the residents of Richmond Hill will recognize what a great job he did for the city and honor him appropriately.  

During an event at the Richmond Hill City Center in 2010 to honor Davis on his retirement from local government, the outgoing mayor performed a handful of country songs. He also gave his definition of friendship.  

““Let me tell you the way I’m built. If I’m your friend today, I’m your friend tomorrow. The easiest thing to do on this journey we’re on, and I’m getting near the end, is to make friends. For some it means doing what they want you to do and saying what they want you to say. That’s not a true friend. I know I have a lot of friends and I know who they are.” 

Funeral services are at 11 a.m. Thursday at Richmond Hill United Methodist Church.  

Read his obituary

Related story: Editor's Notes: Davis a memorable mayor with no regrets

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