Family and friends are remembering Larry Davis for, among other attributes, his easy-going personality, charitable nature and constant inventiveness.
Davis, whose accomplishments included being a longtime local business owner, a former Gilmer County commissioner and the Gilmer Chamber’s 2017 Citizen of the Year, passed away at age 84 Tuesday, July 21.
“He beat all I ever did see for being the kind of guy who could get the most done effectively in the shortest amount of time,” said longtime friend Dwight Sanford. “Anything he did was incredibly organized and thought out and it wouldn’t take him very long to do it. Whatever it was, it would take exactly the time he knew it would take and the job would be done very well.”
‘He never ceased to amaze me’
Daughter Anita Summers said her dad was a lifelong, sixth-generation Gilmer County resident. He and his wife, Alice, would’ve celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in August, she added.
From a young age, Summers was impressed by her dad’s keen mechanical knowledge.
“He never ceased to amaze me with things he would be working on. He was always working on something and he could fix just about anything. From the time my daughters could walk and talk, they knew when an appliance or something around the house would tear up, we could take it granddaddy,” she said. “He also built our first house when I was very young. I remember him going after he got off work and working on that house. I guess I became aware of his ability to build and make things from that.”
One of Davis’ favorite pastimes was playing guitar. That often paired him with his older brother, Vic, who played electric bass and pedal steel guitar. The two grew up in a large family where old-time music was played, which Davis recently discussed with the Times-Courier for an article about he and Vic’s induction into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.
“There was a little music somewhere in our family all the way down. For a lot of people, playing ball is in their family. In ours, it was music,” Davis said. “Vic was my mentor (and) he taught me some chords because he knew how to play earlier than I did. I was about 13 when I started playing the mandolin a little, then I went to the guitar. Our daddy was a fiddler and he played more of the old bluegrass style, whereas Vic and I got more into the Nashville country sound.”
Davis enjoyed using the thumb and finger-picking styles made famous by two of his musical idols, Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, both guitarists who meshed country picking with jazz and other musical styles. As a student at Gilmer High School, he was a member of a state championship winning FFA string band from Gilmer County.
Summers remembered when her dad met Atkins for a segment that appeared on the 1986 WSB-TV program Dream Weaver hosted by news anchor Virginia Gunn.
“When we walked into his office, Chet Atkins came down and daddy just stuck out his hand and said, ‘Well, hey there Chester!’ I couldn’t help but wonder what Chet was thinking about this guy coming in there like they already knew each another. You could tell that daddy was in awe, but it didn’t seem to phase him one bit. He just sat down and played (guitar) with Chet Atkins like he would have anyone else,” she said.
Davis, who made much of his living as a mechanic, ran his downtown Ellijay auto repair shop, Larry’s Ignition & Carburetion, for 30 years, noted Summers. He also restored classic cars and even built a couple of automobiles himself.
“He had such a comprehensive understanding about how cars work. I was still pretty young when he made his first car and I was like, ‘Make a car?!’ I can remember him building the one we called the little yellow car piece by piece in our garage at home and doing the metal work himself,” said Summers about the XP-1, a futuristic-looking car Davis designed and built in the 1970s to promote his business. A popular attraction and award winner at car shows, its body is fabricated from aluminum and it has a chassis made of steel tubing, concealed headlights and electronic doors that open from the roof, rather than the side, according to a description provided by his family.
Sanford, a close friend and frequent musical partner of both Larry and Vic, said the roots of that friendship extend all the way back to an elementary school field trip to Davis’ garage.
“I was just a little boy and Mrs. Pinson took us up there on a trip. We got to hang out at Larry’s garage all day. He was working on cars and would explain this and that and how things worked to all us little bitty kids. That’s one of the earliest memories I have of him,” Sanford recalled.
Years later, the Davis Brothers and Sanford teamed up to perform in a house band for the annual Ellijay Heart Fund Show. A long-running fundraiser for the American Heart Association, it was one of several benefit concerts the brothers did for charities, civic groups and individuals.
“He was just a heck of a musician and I loved playing music with him. We played a bazillion benefits over the years. We used to play for the kids at Gilmer Middle School at the car show they had there and at a program of old music that (former principal) Larry Walker put on for the kids. We played that and it was real special,” Sanford said. “We did the Heart Fund Show together for years. I did the sound equipment and Larry would organize the show and bring out the performers. He kept it breathing for many years and was the one who made it tick.”
Last month, both Larry and Vic said performing at benefit shows provided some of the most rewarding experiences they’d had as musicians.
“Just about any charity that was around in our time, we helped at one time or another. I got the best feeling out of doing any kind of charity (show),” said Vic.
Ellijay Lions Club member Jane Weaver said she could always depend on the brothers to provide music and entertainment for the Special Friends, a Lions Club-sponsored social group for mentally and physically challenged teens and adults.
“Anytime we needed Vic and Larry, all we had to do was call and they would show up. The Special Friends love music and they love the Davis Brothers. They would let them get up there and use their microphone, sing along and just do their thing. It was always a wonderful experience for everybody,” said Weaver. “I’ve been with the Lions Club for 12 years and they were (playing music for the Special Friends) long before then. They never got paid and got nothing but love and thanks, but they never said no.”
When inducting Davis as the Gilmer Chamber’s 2017 Citizen of the Year, Ralph Cox, 2016 COTY, highlighted Davis’ volunteerism and willingness to help others.
“He was not selected for this honor because of what he can do, but for what he is willing to do and has done,” said Cox then. “He is an exceptional citizen, husband, father, grandfather, brother, neighbor and friend. He earned recognition for a lifetime of dedicating his time to serving our community. For his support of organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the American Heart Association, the Lions Club, Apple Country Auto Club, Scouting and many more. For the uncountable benefit shows, fundraisers and special events he has supported. And for always being willing to extend a helping hand to anyone in need.”
Inventive, motivated man
Former Gilmer Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Merle Howell Naylor fondly remembered being on the same board as Davis, who served as post one commissioner from January 1996 to the end of 1997.
“Larry was one of the sincerely nicest people that I’ve ever known. He always made me smile and made my day better with his contagious smile and laugh,” she said. “He always called me his ‘fearless leader’ and would ask, ‘So what’s on the agenda tonight my fearless leader?’ He was a good commissioner because he would research the material before he voted so he could make the best decision for the county. He truly was a selfless person who would help anybody.”
Summers said her dad still had an avid interest in mechanicing and automobiles after retiring from his repair shop.
“He had back surgery and it got to where it was hard to get under the hoods of cars, but that didn’t stop him from doing work now and then. He was even rebuilding carburetors for people until recently. He would also give out a lot of mechanical advice to people over the phone and troubleshoot things for them,” she added.
Davis’ creativity was not limited to cars and music. In his retirement years, he enjoyed writing and was recently compiling historical information about his family roots. His writing projects also included a recurring column, Korn Korner News, that ran in the Times-Courier.
“He always told us stories. He had quit writing for a while, but, from time to time, he would say ‘I started writing this story or that story.’ Some of them were about old times and things he remembered from when he was young. I always encouraged him to write it down,” Summers said.
Davis also experimented with ideas for different types of inventions. One of his inventions was a set of expanding legs used to prevent wheel barrows from tipping over. Called Level Legs, it was licensed and went into production, Summers noted.
“He used a book to figure out how to write his own patents, draw the pictures and everything. He just figured out how to do it himself,” she said.
That’s just the kind of self-motivated person Davis was, agreed Sanford.
“If you had something to do and you were going to meet him, he’d say ‘I’m going to be there at such and such time.’ You’d drive up at that time and he’d be standing there waiting on you. He was a very intelligent man, a gentleman, and a whole lot of knowledge is going with him,” Sanford added.
Summers said she was also amazed at how her dad never seemed to meet a stranger.
“He could just talk to anybody and he didn’t seem to recognize differences between people. It didn’t matter who you were. He had the chance to meet a lot of famous people, but he was never shy or tongue-tied. He would always talk to them like they were anybody else, like a neighbor or a friend. He would have an intelligent question to ask them, something he wanted to know about,” she said.
“I cannot recall in my entire life him ever saying anything bad about anybody else. I’m not saying he didn’t, but I can’t recall a time when he did.”