Hard Candy — Requiem for an Adversary

Al Davis died last week. For those of you who didn’t know Mr. Davis, let me tell you a bit about him:

Mr. Davis fought in Vietnam. He raised children. He flew planes and he sailed boats. He and his wife Cindy moved to Gulfport, where they made their home on Clam Bayou. He didn’t like what he saw on the bayou and became an active voice in trying to effect change.

Mr. Davis and I came down squarely on two different sides of one issue: whether or not parts of Clam Bayou should get dredged. On every over matter relating to the bayou, we agreed, but this one issue divided us – bitterly.

Perhaps because, as a military man, he was used to people doing what he said, he did not react well to local and state authorities ignoring his demands that they do what he felt best for the bayou. Mr. Davis wasn’t exactly a “more flies with honey” kind of guy, and for a time, he became a regular fixture at city council meetings. Sometimes he sounded like a bully; other times, he sounded angry. It was not an uncommon council meeting where he would denounce the Gabber as well as my writing. My job when this happened was to make certain I included his comments in my write-up lest it appear we didn’t want to print negative comments about ourselves. I hated city council meetings then; every public session was a waiting game for Mr. Davis to stand and deride me while our former mayor looked on and smiled, shrugging a sheepish, “well, what can you do?” smile in my direction.

It is not my intention to besmirch Mr. Davis’ memory. Especially because, despite it all, I liked him. From time to time, we agreed, and when he and I weren’t butting heads in perhaps the most unpleasant ways possible, I found him sweet, kind, and decent. More than once I sat with him and talked about politics, the state water management district, or planes. I knew he could be nasty and ugly when he felt he needed to be, but the other side of Mr. Davis? An impassioned delight.

As for Clam Bayou? Where we agreed, we could have accomplished much. It was that one fissure in our beliefs; that one issue that kept us from being friends, or even allies. I’ve held that regret for years.

I will admit this, too: His criticisms caused me to reflect on the quality of my work and question my responsibility to our readers. I realize I will never please everyone, and long ago I stopped trying. Nonetheless, I paid attention to his barbed comments about the paper, examining them for grains of truth. If I’ve done a better job over the years, I can, in part, thank him for holding our paper to a higher standard and blasting us with both barrels when we fell short. On the rare occasions when he would issue a gruff, heartfelt compliment, it mattered. When your fan club loves you, it’s nice, but when your adversaries pay you a compliment, it’s delicious.

Ultimately, Al Davis did effect change in Clam Bayou, although not to the degree he would have liked. He never got his dredging, but he did light a fire under the state and the city. I’m not a fan of all the work the state’s done in the bayou, but I’m less a fan of doing nothing. While I’d like to believe the state would have moved just as quickly without Mr. Davis’ influence – and we all know how state water management districts love to do the right thing in a timely manner – I don’t know if I can.

Now, I’m sure if he were still alive, Mr. Davis would have had plenty to say about all this. I doubt he’d agree with much of it, and I’m pretty sure the next time he stood before council in the public session, he’d let me know exactly how I’d let down journalists everywhere. He’d remind me that lately we’ve been ignoring the Clam Bayou issue in the paper, and he’d also probably object strenuously to his life and death being fodder for a hack in the local paper.

Fair enough, Mr. Davis. But it was important to me that people know who you were and why your life mattered. You ushered in change in Gulfport. And even if you may not have accomplished what you wanted to in Clam Bayou, your life definitely made a difference, at least to this writer.

Rest well, Al. You’ve earned it. May you have fair winds and following seas.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.