Allan Russell Davis, our dad, had an incredible life. Born in the nation’s capital, he traveled around the US with his father, Joe, who worked for the interior department. Joe took incredible photos on these trips, and we treasure them to this day. We can’t speak for our dad, but we suspect his lifelong love of the outdoors and photography rose out of this experience, and we hear that his mother, Evelyn, a person we will always associate with prim, proper, and whatever the opposite of “bare feet” is, actually climbed a tree on one of these trips.
Joe died when Allan was twelve. The event qualified him as an orphan, and he was accepted to attend The Milton Hershey School in Hershey Pennsylvania.The stories we’ve heard of dad’s time at the school mostly involved waking early before the sun rose to milk cows – milk they not only used in the boys’ homes, but also for the nearby chocolate factory.
Allan met our mom, Flora, shortly after she moved to DC from the Dominican Republic, and had met a small group of childhood friends of Dad. Those friends highly talked about Dad and Mom was very happy to finally meet him when he came to visit from his home in Tulsa, OK. At some point, dad decided he was going to marry mom, and told their mutual friends as much. Through long distance mail and phone calls they became best friends, and the friendship developed in love.
While dad very understandably didn’t talk about Vietnam frequently, he did share a few anecdotes about driving a forklift one day and Vietnamese fire hitting base on another. He spoke fondly of the local townspeople and about the men he served alongside. Like other accomplishments in his life, dad was proud to be able to serve for his country, but he never let the experience, or the fact that he was a veteran, completely or solely define him.
Mom and dad married in May of 1973. They lived together in a house in Maryland that Joe had started building before he passed away. Together they worked to fix up and expand the house, and the house still stands to this day in Wheaton.
In 1979, they moved together to Ocala, FL, so dad could further his career as a telemetry engineer for Microdyne Corp, a NASA subcontractor. Allison was born a few years later in 1981, and Amanda, in 1984.
To this day, we don’t fully understand the technical aspects of what dad did at Microdyne, but we know he helped establish reliable communication between ground control and the space shuttles. His work with the company tied us inextricably to the space coast, and as children we frequently drove out to watch the launches, or paused what we were doing to listen for the sonic booms from their return. Dad frequently mused about the clarity of the monitors they had, saying “they’re so clear you can see the lizards jump off the rockets at takeoff” – a particularly advanced feat for the technology of the mid 80s and early 90s.
Dad spent our childhood years working hard to provide for our family. While he had many of his own interests, we were always his priority and nothing was done without our best interest in mind. He spent much of his mental energy making sure our lives were filled with love and enriching experiences. Together with our mom, he planned months-long road trips to every major national park, making sure to visit as many states along the way as possible. He took us to visit his cousin, and our favorite aunt on his side, Irene, in Minnesota, where he helped us dig for worms to hook on strings to fish for crawdads, and to Colorado to see Rabbit Ears Pass, a landmark he remembered from his childhood. He laughed along as we made jokes about the seemingly omnipresent Snake River. His eyes lit up with palpable amazement when we visited Porcelain Basin in Yellowstone, and again when we saw a giant wild bison calmly grazing in the camping space adjacent to ours. We all laughed when we pretended to be frozen on the snow-white sands of Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado and again when Amanda, Allison, and our cousin Laura slipped and fell into the frigid mouth of the Mississippi during a comical domino chain of events. Then quickly made sure we were dried and warmed.
Back in Florida, he and our mom planned frequent camping trips and boating excursions, letting us swim in the cool waters of natural springs despite their (very reasonable) fears of alligators. Together they showed us Florida’s incredible historic remnants (Spanish forts, Seminole canoes still submerged underwater) and all of the natural elements they could identify; every plant had a name we needed to know, as did most fish, most insects, and all mammals. It was important we knew the difference between a key deer and a white tail. Together, they showed us how to jump on a bog and feel the reverberations under our feet, and how to tell which wild blackberries were the best for topping the campfire pancakes that dad would make back at the campground. On several occasions, they woke us in the middle of the night and drove us to open fields, still in our pajamas, so we could watch meteor storms or passing comets from the roof of our station wagon.
If we weren’t camping or boating, our parents strongly encouraged us to be outdoors. Bicycling, roller skating, climbing trees, digging in the dirt, and swimming til our hands were prunes were all encouraged. They taught us to appreciate and respect all wildlife, including the anoles that overran our yard, the occasional garter snakes that slithered through, and all the caterpillars, frogs, and toads that called our backyard home.
Through all of our road trips, camping weekends, and backyard adventures, dad always had two accessories; a black suede cowboy hat that he picked up on one of our trips in Montana, and a trusty camera. Usually the camera was a video camera, and so we’re all blessed to have large chunks of our life together memorialized in video.
During the off-season, when brief cold fronts made it too chilly to be outdoors reliably, dad practiced and performed as a concert cellist with the Ocala Symphony Orchestra. Dad always reminded us to listen for the “horse” at the end of “Sleigh Ride” during the Symphony’s Christmas performance. Occasionally, dad would acquiesce to our demands of a trio performance at home, with us playing piano duets, and him graciously anticipating our keyboard stumbles to play along in unison on his cello.
In 2002, dad had his first heart attack. We didn’t know it until many years later, but that heart attack cost him 80% of his heart. He kept the severity of it from us, and all we knew was that there were some new changes – a new diet, no heavy lifting, no intense exercise. We also knew it pushed him to walk every day.
Dad was declared “disabled” in 2011, officially making him a disabled veteran. He also declared his official retirement in that same year, and turned his attention to fixing up cars. He had worked on a pit crew in the 1960s and that experience along with his seemingly natural gift as a mechanical tinkerer, lent well to his new hobby. His particular interest was Corvette convertibles, and at various points he owned three of them, including his pride and joy, a 2003 50th anniversary edition Corvette convertible. He spent many hours “playing” with their engines and was proud that he could take them apart, put them back together with fewer parts, and they’d run even better than before. In the ten-odd years that he owned his cars, none of them ever set wheel in a mechanic shop, and every one of them ran perfectly. He eventually added a Norton motorcycle to his collection of vehicles, though sadly was only able to ride it once before another major heart event.
In 2016, on a roadtrip with our mom through the Pacific Northwest, something changed. Dad suddenly found himself with little energy, needing to rest for long periods of time, was lethargic, and increasingly confused. Upon their return to Florida and after many visits to the VA hospital in Gainesville, it was determined that another vascular event had furthered dad’s disability and that he was showing early signs of vascular dementia. While the new developments didn’t fully incapacitate him, it did mean he was unable to ride his motorcycle again, and eventually was not allowed to drive at all.
After selling his beloved corvettes, motorcycle, and RV, he and our mother (with lots of coaxing) moved to a beautiful condo in a tall building in Northern Virginia. Their 7th floor sunroom was a fantastic vantage point to watch airplanes taking off and landing at the nearby airport, and dad preferred that form of entertainment over many others, which he increasingly found too tiring or irritating. Though he wasn’t fully “himself” during these years, he still made an impression as a kind, caring, and gentle soul on his neighbors and anyone he met. His first and only grandson was born in 2018, and they enjoyed frequent visits and video calls together.
Allan Russell Davis is survived by his wife of nearly 49 years, Flora Sanchez Davis. By his daughters Allison and Amanda Davis, and his son-in-law Jay Grewal. He is also survived by his grandson Jasper Russell Grewal, who shares his middle name.