The first time I met Tom Davis our conversation went something like this:
Davis: “I don’t like reporters!”
Wright: “Me neither!”
Davis: “And that Mulligan, there’s something not right with that guy.”
Wright: “Totally agree!”
And a friendship was born.
Capt. Tom Davis and I weren’t close like buds but we were always happy to see one another no matter the circumstance. When he died Wednesday at age 95, I was sad for his wife Gudi and daughter, Commissioner Holly Davis, and so darn grateful to have known such a great man.
(Services are Jan. 7 at the Crystal River Airport. I'll have details as they're known.)
Tom Davis and Crystal River Airport are forever linked. I won’t go on about him being a visionary — read Nancy Kennedy’s story in Thursday’s Chronicle — but it’s not hyperbole to say we would not have the extraordinary success at both Inverness and Crystal River airports if not for Tom. He didn’t just blaze a trail, he took on each obstacle like it was a personal mission.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
I appreciate the fierce Citrus County competitor. Not cut throat, like some politicians. I’m talking about people who understand their mission and keep pressing the point until someone listens.
Tom’s mission was aviation. And, after a 33-year Navy career flying combat missions, Tom wasn’t about to be a wallflower to Citrus County politicians who cared little about a community airport.
My Chronicle stories about the Crystal River Airport were rarely the feature variety. Usually, Tom was going up against someone or something or some group in his efforts to extend a runway or make improvements.
Now, there are few ways to secure influence with county commissioners. Financially, of course, through campaign donations. Hiring an attorney to do the talking for you. Secure scads of supporters who show up on Tuesday afternoons with signs.
Or you could take the Tom Davis approach: Straight on. No nonsense. This is what the airport needs, this is why I need it, this is how much it’ll cost. Usually the only question on his part was, “When can I have it?”
He routinely attended county commission meetings for the very minor decisions on the airport. For the major ones, he went to the microphone and told commissioners to ignore voters who said airports were a waste of money, playhouses for the rich, and to follow common economic logic that money would pour into a community from a busy airport.
Whatever disagreements he had with retired publisher Gerry Mulligan and the Chronicle largely preceded me, but any editorial that Tom considered anti-airport would send him seething. Many of our interviews began on the record but within 10 minutes it would spiral into something else.
We spent countless hours in his airport office, surrounded by memorabilia, and he was just as hospitable to me as could be. Tom laughed at himself and at others, and I always admired that about him.
Of course, it’s ironic that his own daughter should be elected county commissioner. I asked him, “Are you going to yell at Holly the way you give grief to the others?”
“Oh, sure,” he said, but I could tell he was so darn proud. For his Crystal River life to swing from battling politicians to having one in the family, it just tickled Tom to no end.
An influence, icon, visionary, aviator, businessman, husband, father and friend — Tom Davis was all of those things and so much more.
He embodied the spirit of Citrus County to set high standards and not let up.
Capt. Tom Davis lived every single day of his 95 years. Glad I was there for some of it.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.