ST. SIMONS ISLAND – Here among the moss draped live oaks near the charming Episcopal house of worship, Christ Church, Jack Davis, the cartoonist extraordinaire, who was all about tradition, the simple things in life and Georgia football, was laid to rest last week.
You would have to know Jack to be aware that he was so proud of his final resting place, that he would attend burial services at the Christ Church Cemetery and say, “Isn’t this a beautiful place? This is where I will be some day. My plot is right over there.” He would take you over to the hallowed ground if you were interested.
This last thing on this Great American’s mind would be that while he, the reluctant celebrity, will become a focal point of upcoming tours for the more than 30,000 annual visitors to the cemetery. He will now become a member of the “Big Three,” in the cemetery: Eugenia Price, the celebrated local novelist, long time sports columnist of the Atlanta Journal, Furman Bisher, and Jack.
For sure, Jack would be compatible with the viewpoint of noted Georgia historian, Lucien Lamar Knight, also buried here, who wished “to sleep in the long peace of eternity under the boughs of the Wesley oak and by the waters of the murmuring Altamaha.”
The service in the packed little Christ Church, which dates back to 1736 and survived the desecration of the building by Union soldiers, was conducted with a simplicity that Jack Davis would have appreciated.
When the news of his death at age 91 came and I began preparing a eulogy, the first thought was that accomplished men are not always modest men. Jack Davis was the exception. The memories flooded forth and brought pause to my day. The emotional hurt was deep and abiding.
You probably know about his many successes: TV Guide covers, 22 and 36 Time Magazine covers, founding contributor to Mad Magazine. In his world that was like Ted Williams batting .400; Joe DiMaggio hitting in 56 consecutive games ; Georgia winning the national championship in football. However, his success in the art world never turned Jack’s head.
From the first time I met him, at his home in Scarsdale, New York, in the mid-Seventies until his body went into decline, he functioned with a sophomoric enthusiasm. In that first meeting, we had lunch at his club and then repaired to his drawing room at home where he said, “I would like to do a ‘little something’ for the University of Georgia.”
He did more than a “little something.” He and his work became iconic with the Bulldog fans. Football program covers. Posters by the thousands. We created a billboard campaign. You could see Jack Davis and his latest Bulldog creation all over the state in the late Seventies and early Eighties. And he never got paid. It was his contribution to his alma mater. “Just a little something for the University of Georgia.”
I talked Coach Bill Hartman, then chairman of the UGA athletic scholarship fund, to pay his way and Dena’s way to the Georgia-Florida game every year. He would meet up with his life-long pal, Charlie McMullen and other good friends, like the late Dick Budd, for a weekend of golf and Bulldog fellowship.
He swooned with every first down, groaned with every play that misfired, but never was the critic. He never carped about any failed execution or coaching decision — even when he was surrounded by those given to castigation.
He often flew home from Atlanta and boarded many flights with Varsity hot dogs and Poss’ barbecue. This was when the world was civil and you could do such things. I once asked him for a self-portrait for a story we were doing for the football programs. He sent a head shot of himself, then drew a cartoon body with big feet, spindly legs and a big pot gut. On the pot gut, he wrote “Poss Barbecue.”
A member of the Greatest Generation, he remembered being on the deck of the ship coming home from the Pacific, looking at the stars, offering thanks to the Almighty that he had survived and looked ahead with great anticipation. We now know that a bountiful life awaited him.
At Georgia, he was a member of the SAE fraternity. He created a one page humor tabloid which he called the “Bull Sheet.” He loved the campus social scene and considered the hedges of Sanford Stadium sacred and inspirational. He rang the chapel bell as a freshman and underscored the greatest reverence for homecoming, the autumn leaves, silver britches, the Chapel Bell ringing into the night and a keg party.
A man of good humor, the only evidence of any miscreant behavior was when he and his friends would catch opossums in North Atlanta and go turn them loose at the Varsity. Women shrieked, children screamed and waiters flat-footed the hoods of cars … as he and buddies stealthily stole away as police sirens confirmed they were on the way.
The greatest of sentimentalists, he was overwhelmed by one particular gift. Nike in the Eighties produced a shoe for Georgia that had D. O. G. S. imprinted on the heel. Jack almost came to tears when I gave him a pair of those shoes.
The next art work he sent to Athens included a note: “Hey man, I wear my Dog shoes every day. He would often call and say, “Man, I got my Dog shoes on.”
Jack Davis was indeed a modest man. He was an altruistic man, a humble man and a caring and giving man.
Now he has moved on to those hedges in the sky. He would be proud that his doting family chose to send him on his heavenly journey, wearing his Dog shoes.
God Bless Jack Davis, a Great Dawg and a Great American. Selah.
Loran Smith is a writer, UGA track letterman, a former executive secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club and longtime employee of the UGA Athletic Association who currently serves in the development office. His columns will appear weekly on DawgNation.