(Left) Jimmy Davis and his wife, Jean, on their wedding day; (right) Jimmy Davis today (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)
On Jan. 22, 2017, an EF3 tornado ripped through Albany, Georgia toppling a large tree onto attorney Jimmy Davis’ home. Davis had a tough decision to make. Move to Cullman with his daughter, Carol, or rebuild. He chose to retire at the age of 99 and make the move to Cullman. Davis recently celebrated his 101st birthday with family and friends.
Davis was born Oct. 8, 1917 in Lexington, North Carolina. His father worked for a power company although his family had primarily been fisherman off the North Carolina coast. When Davis was quite young, his father was transferred to work in Albany, Georgia. Davis and his two younger brothers and one little sister had a happy childhood and learned at a young age that if you wanted something, you had to work for it.
Davis recalled, “Roller skating was a big thing back in those days. We roller skated until we were old enough to work for bicycles.”
Davis was 13 when he got his first job at S.H. Kress Co. Kress was a five and dime store that hired young men during the holiday season.
“I was a stock boy during the holidays,” said Davis. “We would bring merchandise from upstairs and fill the shelves. The first season I worked, I made $13. That was good money back then.”
He continued, “My brother and I both wanted bikes, and our boss, Iva Johnson, didn’t tell us he already planned on making sure we both had bikes. My brother and I were close in age and it wouldn’t do for just one of us to get a bike. Christmas morning, my brother came in and saw his bike sitting by the tree. He got so excited he ran and went right into the tree!”
The family did own a car. They had a Model T Ford that only his father and mother were allowed to drive.
Davis said, “A Model T had to be hand cranked and my mother couldn’t do it. The problem is if you let go of that crank before the car started, it would whip back around and get you. It could break your arm!”
Davis was happy to report that he never broke his arm.
When Davis was just 15, he graduated from Columbus High School in Georgia. He laughed, “They told me I was smart and let me skip the seventh grade. I think that was a huge mistake. I’ve had a problem with fractions my whole life.”
After graduation, Davis went to work. His family couldn’t afford to send all four children to college. Davis learned typing and shorthand which helped him find a job with the Georgia Power Company. He hand delivered light bills. This gave him the opportunity to attend Young Harris Junior College in Northeast Georgia.
After two years of junior college Davis was working for a mercantile selling dishwashers and other appliances. His boss urged him to apply for law school at Emory University.
Davis remembered, “I was accepted early into Emory due to always making good grades and good references.”
He passed the Georgia bar exam in 1941.
The same time Davis was graduating and passing the bar, his friends were leaving for World War II. This was a difficult time for Davis.
He said, “I went to sign up to go to the war but didn’t qualify. The man wrote on my paper “4f” and said I couldn’t go.”
Davis is 4’ 9 1/2” and his height was disqualifying.
Despite his height, Davis was the Georgia state champion in wrestling for three years. He only weighed 105 pounds, so he wrestled in the lowest weight class.
He said, “I might have been too short for the Army, but I knew I was tough.”
Davis missed his friends who were overseas and began attending dances in the area. Soon he would meet Jean at a dance and they eventually married.
“I met Jean at a high school dance. I liked the dances and I am a good dancer. She was several years younger than me, but I am 4’9” and we were a great fit,” he laughed.
Davis practiced law for more than 70 years in Georgia.
He explained, “Back then, all of those accused of a crime had to have a lawyer. Most of them had no money and the state didn’t pay us either. It was at least five years before I made any money as an attorney.”
He continued, “I ran into some interesting criminals and they all had the same story about ‘being off with Joe.’ They were obviously telling tales. When I was starting out, the sheriff and judge had taken a liking to me. The superior court met two times a year in Albany. On the first Monday in March when court convened, and I actually had a paying client. I was 15 minutes late getting to court. The judge said he was going to have to fine me $15. That was a whole lot of money back then and I had no money. I told the judge I couldn’t pay so he instructed the deputy to take me into custody. The sheriff was about 6’6” and 250 pounds. He had this big booming voice and said, ‘Your honor, I’ll pay Mr. Davis’ fine.’ Of course, it was just a big joke between them, but I learned my lesson about being late.”
Davis was elected as a representative to the Georgia General Assembly in 1949. After two years, he decided he didn’t like it or the governor at the time. He chose to remain in Albany where he was elected as mayor for two terms. During his second term, the Albany city attorney died, and Davis resigned as mayor to become the city’s attorney.
Davis and Jean were married five years before having their daughter Carol. Soon after, Jean was stricken with polio.
Davis said, “There was a bad epidemic. My mother helped take care of the baby until I could get on my feet. Jean went to Warm Springs, Georgia for six months of treatment and rehab at Vanderbilt. Despite all of the treatment, Jean was permanently confined to a wheelchair.”
Davis said of wife Jean, “My one great accomplishment in life was marrying her. Our daughter is just like her.”
Davis laughed as he told about their dog Tar, “He was terrified of thunder and lightning and would hide under Jean’s wheelchair. Tar was a white spitz. We had a cat briefly. Jean made me a caramel cake for my birthday and we turned our back for just a few minutes. When we came back, the cat had gotten into my cake! The cat had to go.”
Jean, Davis’ wife of 64 years, passed away in 2011. He continued to work as an attorney until the age of 99. He also published two books of poetry.
Davis currently resides at Westminster Assisted Living in Cullman.
He said, “I’d rather be working!”
He enjoys his daily visits with his daughter. He loves the Georgia Bulldogs and the Atlanta Braves. He recalled watching the great Hank Aaron years ago and remains a loyal fan today.
Davis says the secret to a long life is “Mind your mother.”
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