Some folks called Richard Davis “The Mayor,” and some still do. Others called him “King Richard.”
Davis, who passed away on Sunday, probably earned both sobriquets over his lifetime, which was long and fruitful and sometimes fraught, but filled with the kind of people and places and history somebody should maybe write a book about.
And one thing’s for sure. He sure was something else.
The last time I saw Davis was last year at a fish fry. It wasn’t just any fish fry, either, but one of the best kind, meaning a fish fry devoid of airs or self-importance but full of those who made Richmond Hill what it was in a more laid back time. Loosely organized and put on by the somewhat nebulous and fluid membership of a couple of local gentleman’s clubs and their wives and girlfriends, said fish fries are an ongoing tradition and exist for the noble purpose of giving something back to first responders – cops, deputies, firefighters and EMTs.
The clubs, whose membership over the years has included some of Richmond Hill’s most illustrious male citizenry, are known as The Liar’s Club and The D.P. Club, and never mind what D.P. stands for. I mention this, however, to note I’ve been told Davis is the only man ever to be a member of both clubs.
Anyhow, that fish fry was the last time I saw Richard Davis. We talked, briefly about nothing much, and before moving away I snapped his photo, Davis standing alongside the great Ellis Phillips and Jimmy Henderson.
The first time I met Davis was about a decade and a half earlier and maybe 250 yards away. It was in October, 2006, and I’d been editor of this newspaper for a couple of days and there was a meeting at Richmond Hill City Hall hosted by the Georgia Department of Transportation on the widening of Highway 144. Traffic, you see, was a mess then too.
I don’t think either of us said much. Davis was friendly enough, but I got the sense he didn’t think too highly of know-it-all editors, and I was one of that sort back then.
We’d sometimes bump heads over this or that during the years that followed, mostly over coverage the News would give to those who disagreed with Davis’ vision of which way the city should go and how it should grow. He called them naysayers. They called him King Richard. And so it went.
Fast forward a year or two from that first meeting in 2006. While I grumbled over traffic and Richmond Hill’s increasing population density, Davis pointed out it wasn’t just happening to Richmond Hill.
For a 2009 series on growth, Davis told former assistant editor Jessica Holthaus (we had a staff back then, and put out papers two times a week) that people who didn’t want to be around other people should probably look elsewhere to live.
“The projections for the East, Gulf and West Coasts of the U.S. – by 2015, more than 50 percent of the entire population will reside along them,” Davis said, back then. “If people are anti-growth and don’t want to be around people, they should make plans to go somewhere else. 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.”
Here, a digression because it’s hard to keep life in a straight line. You see, Davis also had the temerity to tell people complaining about trees getting knocked down to look in their own backyard, since somebody probably had to knock down trees to put up their houses, too. And once, if I remember right, Davis said Chatham County wasn’t going to annex Richmond Hill if he had anything to say about it. Or maybe it was the other way around. Or perhaps’ it’s just part of the legend.
One wonders, or at least I wonder, how Davis would’ve fared as mayor in this world of social media know-it-alls and those unable to take no for an answer without pitching fits both online and in public.
But then again, all those years ago there was plenty of drama going around. The City Center, Henry Ford signs, No Condos on the Ogeechee, Stack a Shacks on Highway 17, you name it. All of it just part of the pace and path of growth turning Richmond Hill into the place that even then had drawn new residents by the thousands. Davis, by choice, was right in the middle of a good bit of it, his drawl sounding like it was about to break out into a Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard song.
In 2009, when Davis said he wasn’t going to seek a fourth term, he told a reporter he felt good about what he was leaving behind.“I’m sure I haven’t pleased everybody, but that’s not the name of the game,” Davis said. “If you try to do that, you’d make a royal mess of everything … I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do. I have no regrets.”