Several years ago in 2009, I was interviewed and commissioned by the Glen Cove Housing Authority to create an exterior portrait mural of 1976 Olympic gold medal boxing champion Howard Davis, Jr. While I was deeply honored to be chosen for this important project, I was also distressed because I was only provided with two grainy, wallet size photos of what I was to emulate. There was lots of nail biting hoping that the portraits I was creating bore resemblance to the Davis duo. I also had to include an angel representing Howard’s mom, who died during the 1976 Olympics. Howard was devastated when he received the news, but was convinced that he shouldn’t withdraw because his mom would want him to stay and fight. So he continued, determined more than ever to win, and he did!
Howard’s father was such an integral part of the community as well, and also needed to be part of the mural. Howard Davis Sr. would take all the local boys that lived in the projects of Glen Cove down to the local boxing ring and show them how to box. I was so moved because on the day of the street naming and mural reveal ceremony, I spoke with a few of those now grown men who told me they credit Mr. Davis for keeping them out of trouble and making them who they are today. They were very touched by the mural and told me how much Howard and his dad were loved by the community.
My moment of truth came when Howard Davis Jr. arrived, and the drape was removed from my mural. I took a deep breath and waited for Mr. Davis’ reaction. He took one look at it and was moved to tears, and came over and hugged and thanked me. He was such a gracious man, and insisted I join in the celebration dinner. We chatted for quite a while, and he told me he planned on writing an autobiography and now wanted to include me in it. Mr. Davis struck me as a soft-spoken, kind man who was very humbled by his celebrity and didn’t seem to know what all the fuss was about.
I was deeply saddened to learn of Howard Davis, Jr.’s death a few weeks ago. He was diagnosed just ten months ago with lung cancer, even though he never smoked a day in his life. Howard and his wife started the Howard Davis Jr. Foundation to raise money for alternative treatments and financial assistance. 70% of his own bills weren’t covered, and he wanted to help others dealing with the same hardship. The more I am reading and learning about Mr. Davis, the more I realize what a wonderful human being he truly was. The flowers in the photo were put by the mural by his five year-old daughter, “so we never forget him”. His home town of Glen Cove has made sure he will never be forgotten either.
If you would like to donate, please go to www.howarddavisjrfoundation.org