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A Bryan County footprint
Shirley Says
Sam (Cecil) Davis, who recently celebrated his 91st birthday, in 1934, when he was 15. - photo by Photo provided.
Have you ever looked at a beautiful piece of art and wondered where the artist got the idea? Inspiration is necessary for artists. Sometimes they stumble upon a source that “speaks to them.”
The real world is a great source of inspiration, especially old photographs. Faded black and white photographs are the key to our family’s past. They often tell a story of a simpler time. A local artist, Debi Fox, recently captured the essence of a 70-year-old picture and brought it to life.
Debi and her husband Pete, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, moved from Orlando, Fla., to Richmond Hill nearly two years ago. They had not given serious thought to moving here until their daughter and son-in-law, Leigh-Alyson and Joe Zingaro, suggested they become full-time grandparents.
They settled in Buckhead and are devoted grandparents to Ella Grace and Emma Kate, 9 and 5 years old, respectively.
Shortly afterward, Debi became involved with Arts on the Coast, and her love for the arts was revived.
Her passion for painting began while she was in high school. While living in Germany, her parents sent her to Paris to study art. The artist to whom she was assigned was a big advocate of palette knives.
She explained, “There I learned to use lots of paint, brushes and palette knives.”
Debi has a penchant for the arts – painting, photography, interior design and culinary arts.
She said, “Through my art I have found my purpose in life. I’m in a really great place now. I find it such a blessing to share my passion for the arts.”
One afternoon Debi went to the Richmond Hill Historical Museum to browse through old photographs.
She said, “I saw one of a school bus…it literally jumped off the page at me. I brought it home, studied it, and thought about it that night. It really spoke to me.”
The old photograph challenged Debi. She explained, “I sensed they were proud to have their picture taken that day. I was compelled to paint that. I challenged myself to go deeper…to make the painting come alive. I could feel love in the old photograph.”
Debi researched the photograph. It wasn’t until she talked with local historian Frances Meeks that it came together for her. Her conversation with Frances led Debi to me – the granddaughter of the man standing beside the wooden bus with his young son.
The man in the photo is Henry Davis, one of the first school bus drivers for Ways High School. Standing beside him is Hiram, his 5-year-old son. Hiram was too young to go to school; therefore, he often rode with his pa.
Mr. Ivy Spence, the school’s other bus driver, took the picture in 1937. Hiram added, “Mr. Spence and Pa were great friends.”
Hiram remembers the day the picture was taken. Prior to the photograph, he had been playing with a long stick, which his pa made him lay on the ground. He said he believes that’s why his pa is looking down, making sure he had obeyed.
If you look at the bottom of the photo, you’ll see the stick Hiram refers to – it’s placed directly in front of his pa.
The only seats in that old school bus were three wooden planks, one on each side, and one down the middle. Hiram remembers his pa as being meek – not to be mistaken for weak.
He added, “He made the children mind. He had a way about him…everyone knew he meant what he said and said what he meant. He would put it in such a way even as kids we knew when he was serious.”
Henry Davis began driving the bus in 1928 and continued until the early 1940s. He then began working for Henry Ford as a carpenter.
It’s not surprising that Debi felt palpable love in the photo. Henry and Floy Smith Davis doted on all of their 11 children, eight sons and three daughters. Henry and Floy were natives of Bryan County, and all their children were born and raised in here.
Today, five of their children are left to cherish memories: Sam (Cecil) Sr. and Allene Butler live in Richmond Hill, Hiram in Alabama, Joe in Washington and Henry (Junior) in Texas.
Their oldest son Sam vividly remembers riding to Ways High School from their old home site in what is now Fort Stewart. He graduated from the school in 1936 as valedictorian.
Allene Davis Butler has fond memories of riding to school in the old bus.
She shared, “Pa was very patient with the children…they didn’t give him a bit of trouble. It was mostly the McCallars, Davises, Bashlors, Gills and Shumans on the bus. There were probably about 20 of us. The bus wasn’t very long…we sat close together and rode quietly to school.”
The painting by Debi Fox stirred feelings in my family, kindling a yearning for the sweet familiarity of the past.

Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. She can be reached at
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