|Who is Buddy
By Tom Kelly
The date is 1968. The place is Mexico City. The hour is--oh, well, it is the Summer Olympics, and the end is in sight. Swimming is the event, carried on ABC Sports, narrated by Chris Schenkel. The Mexicans, who had hosted an enjoyable Games, had only one bronze and one silver for their country in swimming. And then, Felipe Munoz swam a 2:28.7 200-meter breast stroke which was good enough to win that event - and a GOLD! The crowd erupted. Suddenly a large Mexican flag on a four-foot or so staff came out of the crowd and into Mu\'f1oz' hands on the swimming pool floor. It was as if that young man was walking on air, dancing and parading around the pool again and again, waving that flag as high as he could possibly reach, while the crowd--and not only Mexicans--went totally and completely wild--cheering, laughing, and weeping with ecstasy.
It was in that moment that I, who never played any serious sports, realized something I had not before: that athletics is a force of nature, like gravity, that binds us in a way that nothing else does, and that while competing is worth the effort, winning, even a small win made giving your best, is divine, recognized as worthy even by the opponents. In pursuit of that insight, sitting in my reclining chair in front of the television in my living room on Lilinda Drive on the south side of Ruston, I made the resolution then and there that four years hence, at the next Olympics, The Ruston Daily Leader would be present and cover it as a local event--given the prospect that with two local universities and six top-class high schools fielding a variety of first-rank athletics, there was a fair chance that a local competitor or two would appear among the world-wide lineup of the Best of the Best.
By this time a young O.K. (Buddy) Davis was already working alongside the declining legend, Major Lawrence J. (Larry) Fox, prolifically writing local Tech, Grambling, and high school and kids league sports while making his way first through Ruston High School, then Louisiana Tech University. Major Fox's military title came from the rank he had achieved during the two World Wars, culminating in a position within the staff of the Supreme Commander, General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur in post-World War Two Japan. As a part-time staffer with The Leader, he wrote tid-bits of sports and other odds and ends, including the once-daily front-page quips-and-oddities piece, "Around the Corner." Major Fox had done a stint of teaching at Louisiana Tech, and was also known, mostly kindly, by Ruston High School and Louisiana Tech football fans as the public address announcer for local games. He was approaching, if not already into, his eighties, which to me at the time seemed ancient, but from my present vantage point is not all that remarkable. He maintained an unshakable daily and weekly routine, one portion of which was to produce and distribute the bulletin for the Ruston Kiwanis Club meeting each Thursday. At one point early in my tenure as publisher of The Daily Leader, I had thought it was possibly time for Major Fox to move on in favor of the new, young Buddy Davis. When approached, the Major bristled and retorted, "Why, you can't fire me. I'm a legend here." Of course, he was right, and stayed until he decided it was time. Sorry, Major. Legends do matter.
Buddy Davis came to our attention at The Daily Leader sometime in the early to middle 1960s, when during a Fall weekly football pre-game guessing contest run by the paper for cash prizes, the name O.K. Davis kept showing up among the money winners week after week. I suggested to the managing editor of the time - it may have been Charles Tannehill - to find this Davis guy, whoever he might be, and do a feature about him. O.K. Davis turned out to be a Ruston High School student who was nuts about sports, and would do about anything to be able to write about it. It didn't take us or him very long to get him started writing while he continued his education.
By 1969, Buddy was the sports editor in fact if not yet in name or title, and nearing if not already finished, his undergraduate degree at Louisiana Tech University. On August 29, 1969--it was a Friday, ironically, forty years ago this month--the event occurred which in one wrenching moment propelled The Ruston Daily Leader from the era of lead-type printing, little different in method and technology from the beginnings by Gutenberg and Mergenthaler, into the new world of photomechanical, digitized, computer-based offset publishing. An accidental fire escaping from the lead-melting furnace in the innards of the old Leader plant at 301 West Mississippi, took down the plant and equipment in the short time between 7 a.m. and mid-morning. Having survived the fire with little more than the historic bound volumes of the paper originating from the early 20th century, and a few scraps of paper including the advertising run-list for that day's edition, The Leader staff, having gone to work that morning as an old-fashioned letterpress daily, finished the day with an abbreviated four-page edition composed by "cold-type," printed by the offset method, and delivered to subscribers by 4 p.m. that afternoon. What The Leader has by now achieved in technical excellence we could only dream of in the hours and days that followed, given the level of knowledge and technology available to us in those times. The fact remains: it's the words that count.
Of the scenes burned into memory from that day, one remains strong. While smoke was still rising from the rubble of the destroyed newspaper plant, somehow Lincoln Builders contractor Hollis Graham got word to us that he had vacant offices available to us in a building he owned up on Trenton Street near Interstate 20. And somehow, probably through a word to Dudley Cowan, the local Bell Telephone customer service manager (remember how they used to have those around every town?) we connected with Southern Bell Telephone Co. about our plight. By the time we could drag ourselves, deskless and covered in ash and smoke, to Hollis Graham's very welcome offices, Bell Tel had our phone system up and running--regular numbers and all, bless 'em to this day. When I made it to the location myself, the first sight I spotted was Buddy Davis, sitting butt-flat on the floor in a hallway, a telephone set on his lap, receiver cradled behind his ear, a note pad and pencil in hand, taking notes, oblivious to the frantic noise around him, getting his quotes for the day's edition.
We spent a few days with Hollis Graham, and a couple of months in a two-story house on a side street behind Hale Shadow's Coca Cola bottling plant, and sometime in the late Fall of 1969, acquired, renovated, and moved into a portion of the old Ritchie Grocer Company building--a relic from another era of Ruston's history--facing the Illinois Central railroad on Park Avenue. That building, with its additions and improvements, remains the physical home of today's Ruston Daily Leader; Buddy Davis' office is in the space that housed the first production camera room.
With the trauma and recovery of 1969 passing into 1970, The Leader was launched into the new world of offset printing. Our own plant was operational by November, after the mad rush of composing at home and printing daily at the neighboring Bastrop Daily Enterprise. With life settling into a routine again, that plan to cover the Olympics came to mind. I asked Buddy, by now the sure-'nough Sports Editor--title, desk, and all--if he'd like to cover the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in the summer of 1972. He shrugged and said, essentially, Sure, why not, probably not certain if I was serious.
It got to be 1971, and our first efforts at finding a key for the lock on Olympic Games credentials had come up blank. OK, it's Munich, --Germany, --right? Sitting at the desk right around the doorframe from Buddy is Ruth Erica Alexander, daughter of a Jewish cloth merchant in pre-War Berlin, who had survived the fall of her city at the end of World War Two, and eventually married an ex-GI named Ben Alexander from the Lincoln Parish village of Simsboro. And she had worked in the Frankfurt, Germany bureau of the Associated Press, post-War. Ruth wrote features, club news, and a lot of what was still called "Women's News," in unaccented English. I asked if she had a thought on how to open the door to the Olympics. Maybe some of her old AP contacts could help. She said, "Ja, I call." From there things moved; soon Buddy was credentialed for the Munich games, with space reserved in the press village. The Daily Leader had scores, times, personality quotes, and photographs via overnight airmal--no Internet yet in those days--directly from Munich, including the infamous Black September attack on the Israeli village which disrupted the games for a day. Buddy was the envy of the Louisiana sports writing community, and fast becoming the sportswriting superstar in his home town. When he returned from Munich, we greeted Buddy and his date at a private dinner in our Ruston home, and used the occasion to offer him a higher staff position - City Editor, perhaps, to acknowledge his achievement. Nope. Not interested; sports was his game, and he'd stay right where he was, thank you very much.
Four years later, 1976, having become "one of the boys," Buddy was able to line up his spot at the Montreal Summer Olympics, and another reporting coup for The Ruston Daily Leader.
I don't know how many Super Bowls Buddy has covered, or Final Fours, or other local, regional, national, and international events in the forty-plus years he has toted pad and pen for The Daily Leader. He has interviewed an entire galaxy of national and international superstars in every kind of sport, from Mohammed Ali to . . . Zorba the Greek? And, according to his own account, has been praised and cussed out by professional stars and Little League moms by the dozen.
By the 1980 Olympics, I was outta there, and have only seen Buddy in person less than a handful of times during the intervening almost 30 years. He obviously has been doing well.
All these things were on my mind on Saturday evening, June 27, 2009, sitting in the filled-to-capacity Natchitoches Events Center, to witness Buddy Davis receiving the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, an honor never more justly deserved, in my opinion.
We sat at a table surrounded by Hall of Fame stars--W.A. (Dub) Jones, who was back-to-back with son Bert, both of whom made the parade of stars as prior inductees in the Hall of Fame, along with other table mates A.L. Williams, former Woodlawn High School coach of a squad of top pro running backs including Terry Bradshaw and Joe Ferguson, who sat at his left; Billy Jack Talton, former Captain Shreve assistant coach and power lifting coach at Louisiana Tech, and his grandson, Brian McGowen, who at 14 has the physique of a future power lifting phenom; and Pat Garrett, son of the legendary Hall of Famer L.J. (Hoss) Garrett Ruston High School coach--Pat told of playing in a freshman team game for University of Georgia, against an Alabama frosh team quarterbacked by an improbably gangly and disjointed looking fellow named Joe Namath. Georgia lost. These were just the stars we could reach out and touch. An equal number sat with Buddy at one of the two tables reserved for his friends and boosters, and the evening was filled with the bright light of stars from every field of sports in Louisiana from golf to softball to football to track to baseball to . . . what else is there?
(A heads-up to Ruston area civic club program chairs: Buddy Davis is not a one-dimensional wordsmith. He can talk. His acceptance speech was delivered in a clear, straightforward, relaxed voice, the material was well organized, to the point, and well received. You wouldn't guess it of him from his non-confrontational, offhand manner.)
And finally, O.K. (Buddy) Davis is, to the best of my personal knowledge, the longest serving employee, staff member, or executive ever in The Ruston Daily Leader's service. I cannot certify for certain the length of service of the founder, Savery Lewis, nor the next owner, Clarence Faulk, or their staffers, but I do believe and will claim until shown to be wrong, that Buddy Davis' 40-plus years of association equals or beats any of theirs. And I do know for absolute certainty that he outranks in seniority any of the executives or staff members of the current era of ownership.
I am also quite certain that the attention and coverage that Buddy Davis has given through the years and continues to give to athletic participation--from the littlest of the Little League players to the mightiest of the mighty professionals and Olympians--has actualized hundreds, thousands even, of emerging personalities who are now making positive contributions to society, more confident of themselves because of the appearance of their name in print in a headline or box score of a local athletic contest--giving them leave to acknowledge their reality--"I am here; I am real; I exist; I am in The Paper!"
Thanks for all of that, Buddy. You do more than you know.