• Mar 28th 2011 at 12:30PM
  • 85
David E. Davis, Jr., with wife Jeannie and son Matt

Talking about my dad just after the day of his death, I'm sort of forced to quote him. Right up to the last, he was "one tough summbitch" as he would say in praising anyone worth their salt. He saved that Burnside, Kentucky, inner country boy just for such moments as these.

His amazing wife Jeannie Luce Kuhn Davis (one of the great names in the annals of stepmothering) and I drove up to the hospital yesterday before I had to get to the airport to head to New York City, where I am writing this now. Jeannie was in her Chrysler minivan – her favorite for hauling dogs and people, in that order – me in a nice Saab 9-5 sedan. We'd brought the two big Italian Spinone hunting dogs, Tavi (for "Ottavio") and Pucci (for "Puccini"), to the hospital the two previous days so they could give some love to their bedridden master. Jeannie was going to bring them again in the afternoon since my dad and everyone else on the floor got such a kick out of them with their silly bearded faces and warm affection.

In the morning my dad was fine and we had a good last bye-bye, saying we'd see each other really soon again anyway. After all, all post-op tests revealed that he was now completely cured of any cancer and he'd be heading home in maybe five or six days to heal up completely. We were all telling as much to the many well-wishers who phoned the room.

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I got here to New York on a gorgeous sunny late winter's day and was hammering out a couple burning news stories when my cell phone rang and showed it was Jeannie. This was an unexpected pleasure. After the mutual "Hi, how are ya" etc. I heard the tone of her voice and asked right away, "What's up? Everything okay?" And, in simple words that is our way generally in situations brimming with emotion, Jeannie said, "Your father died."

There are so many memories that come and, in this dad's case anyway, a lot of them involve cars. More memories than I can ever recount in adequate detail actually. Driving a 965 Porsche Turbo together from Ashland, Oregon, over to Klamath Falls, and up to Crater Lake seemingly without coming across any other cars the whole way. Driving Chevy Suburbans and Volvo wagons absolutely everywhere together. He and my recently deceased mother Norma Jean Wohlfiel Davis driving us all in several Country Squire station wagons (with the pop-up rear-facing back bench seat where we'd get truckers to honk their horns for us) across the country way too many times to remember. Having my first significant stint at the wheel in 1976 in a spanking-new white Rover 3500 across all of France with him in the passenger seat for the consummate masterclass in how to drive.

There's so much to talk about from the car side, but frankly those who knew him best in this profession from phase to phase can do it all a little better than I can. All I have ever known was that David E. Davis, Jr., loved and adored the freedom of the automobile, he knew how to write about it all like very few others, and that was good enough for me. I was his youngest kid and his life fascinated me, and it still does. He always remembered to tell me how proud he was that I had managed to set up shop in Europe all these years, something he had always wanted to do. I just hope he could feel that I, along with so many others, was many times more proud of him.

We shot together, fished together, wrote together, laughed like hell together a lot, fought like hell a few times, and we wouldn't have done it any other way.

Gonna miss that summbitch.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Months Ago

      As the eldest son who was among the last to speak to the old guy and be told that despite his affection (and because he was cancer free and moving on to a next phase in life) he never wanted to talk to me again.  I was the unconventional - and at that time, also successful son whom he was always threatened by.  Yet I was also, as he wrote in a "From The Drivers Seat' entitled, "For Sale: A 1974 Javelin From A Cultural Throwback" (wherein he offered money to have me killed), in the early 80's, I was "the one human who was most like him".  Pretty good reason for him not to like me I thought as I inherited his ongoing ability to piss even his closest friends off with a dismissive phrase or insult.  Dad was multi-faceted, funny and very endearing when he was not just focusing on himself and bullying his staff and friends.

      The car connection means more to his widow and others than it ever meant to his first and only true family, we liked the man, just couldn't put up with his brash ego eternally.  My brother Matt and second wife Jeanie elected to deny me access to even his funeral....as namesake and DAVID E. DAVIS XIV, this was a low blow.  That they, in their ultra conservative, humorless view could imagine for a moment that I would (as my brother said), "do something" at the funeral was simply preposterous.  My love of him was based on HIM, not his fame, his money or his notoriety - as was the case with my brother and his very protective second wife.  My memories are not of cars and driving, but of laughing, eating, hunting and mostly trying in vain to garner his attention and regard, as sons are want to do.  I achieved the latter upon opening my own business only to again lose it, upon having to leave the business due to health and family problems (my marriage failed), he again saw only what he wanted to see and cast me out.

      I write this a few years after his demise, and given how it all went down....when people ask
      are your parents still alive?"  I say "Mom died of cancer, Dad died of acute karma".

      I will always remember him fondly, as the man (now aging) who looks the most like him. I take great pleasure in having car buffs approach me simply because they see him in me and want to talk about his glorious legacy (in cars....I leave the family stuff out so as not to diminish the shine on the apple, he didn't deserve that).  I loved my father, it was not returned....but then none of live in a perfect world where we get what we want.  And as his beloved mother always told me, :You don't get a manual when children are born into your complicated lives".  I miss her too.

      • 4 Years Ago

      My deepest condolences to you and your family. I've had the pleasure to work with David E. on several occasions throughout my career, which began as a lowly "Motor Gopher" at Automobile Magazine. David E. carried such an air about him, that I was a bit terrified of him at first. But I soon learned that that fear was misplaced. This was one exceedingly decent man.

      Despite his lofty position, I have witnessed David E. treat numerous people of absolutely no standing with the same charm, wit and friendliness that he would bestow on some titan of the automotive industry. I never quite felt worthy to be in his presence, but he always managed to make me feel at ease, and appreciated with his innate goodness. Yes, he was a great writer, and a great story-teller. More importantly, he was a genuinely terrific man.

      The world's a less interesting place today than it was while David E. was still among us.

      Glenn Paulina
      KGP Photography
        • 4 Years Ago
        Glenn, if I may pick up on your comment about David E.'s graciousness with people of no standing, I would like to relate just such an instance:

        About 13 years ago, my wife made arrangements for our anniversary dinner at Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center in NYC. About 10 minutes after we were seated, my wife smiled at someone behind me, and rose from her chair to greet him, and, as I turned around, a gentleman I recognized as David E. extended his hand and said "Hello, I'm David Davis, and this is my wife Jeannie." Thoroughly bewildered, I extended my hand, and mumbled what a pleasure it was to meet him. I was confused, and not being too quick-witted, just thought he happened to be in the same restaurant. No, wait, why would he come say "hello" to me? He doesn't know me...? Then, he and Jeannie seated themselves at our table, apologizing that a later engagement meant they would only be able to stay for a short while. After 45 minutes of pleasant conversation, ranging from his affection for the 928 (my ride at that time), to his plans to drive a Jaguar D type in the upcoming Mille Miglia, they left for their dinner engagement, which turned out to be the famous palace coup at Automobile.

        After they left, my wife confessed that she had arranged this meeting, because she took note the previous year, when we saw David E. at the NY Auto Show, of my admiration for him, though I refused, by policy, to accost a famous person in public. So, she had contacted his secretary, who told David about it, and he enthusiastically agreed to the idea of surprising me, and made all the arrangements with my wife personally, juggling his busy schedule to allow him to come downtown for as long as he could before being whisked off to his business engagement uptown. A rare and generous man.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've been reading various car magazine, both domestic and foreign, since the early '70s and nobody has consistently impacted me the way DED has in all that time. Matt, my heart goes out to you and your family - your father was one heck of a guy, to say the least. He will be very sorely missed.
      • 4 Years Ago
      A huge loss
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've been reading Mr. Davis' words for 30 some years, man will he be missed. God Bless.......
      • 4 Years Ago
      Matt: Very sorry about your loss and ours. Your dad was the best editor Car and Driver ever had (sorry to all the rest...I quit reading it after he left), he got me hooked early on BMW's after his first 2002 piece ("Whispering Bomb", I think it was) and was one, cool summbitch! My sympathies to you and your family.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Deepest sympathies to you and yours.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm so sorry for your loss.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Gross Point Myopia.....one of my favorite articles....by DEDjr....
      Still talk about it today.....how he wrote...wonderful
      He will be missed...
      Prayers to the family....he is in a better place...
      • 4 Years Ago
      The man surely led a wonderful life, may he rest in peace.
      • 4 Years Ago

      I was a charter Automobile subscriber and began using my middle initial (E) in my signature in junior high because of the influence of your dad in my life.

      Your father made it cool to be expressive, to love cars and life and adventure. Hemingway and David E. are two of the faces on my Rushmore.

      Very very sorry for your loss, and I will be praying for you and your family during this time.

      Cogito Ergo Zoom Matty, sic transit gloria mundi DED Jr.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Awww how sad but I don't know why the title got me trippin lmao
      • 4 Years Ago
      All these years reading Mr. Davis and I never knew he was a fellow Kentuckian. My mom lives in Somerset and my sister in Mount Victory, both just a hop and a jump from Burnside. My deepest condolences to you and your family, Matt. May he rest in peace.
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