05/21/08 — A real legacy: Generations will benefit from the kindness of Walter Davis

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A real legacy: Generations will benefit from the kindness of Walter Davis

It’s easy to leave a mark on the world if you have a lot of money, fame and fortune.

But the problem with a legacy that is based in dollars and cents is that — in the end — the crowd will move on to the next big spender and snappy dresser.

Walter Davis had done well for himself — a self-made man who managed to amass a fortune in the oil business.

But according to those who knew him, even though he really could have done the flash that makes people pay attention, Mr. Davis decided, instead, to change the lives of generations.

Most of the young people who have benefitted from Mr. Davis’ unwavering support of the University of North Carolina probably do not even know who he is. Likewise, the many scholarship recipients and others who have benefitted from the programs he championed.

And then there were the young people struggling to make ends meet working in restaurants — who ended up with huge tips — from a stranger.

That is the kind of mark Mr. Davis has left on the state of North Carolina.

And there is no finer one.

There are many people who claim to remember their roots once they become successful. For many of them, that step back in time involves a simple visit home once in a while.

Walter Davis made it his business to take care of the future of North Carolina and to give every student he could the chance to make something of him or herself with a college education.

He not only remembered his roots — he honored them with his philanthropy and advocacy every day.

The measure of a man really is not how much money he makes or the success he achieves while he is here on Earth.

Instead, it is the character that he builds and the honor he brings to not only his family, but to the hometown and supporters on whose shoulders he stands.

Walter Davis seemed to understand that he would not have been where he was without the support and lessons he learned from others. He made it his life goal to make sure he returned the favor.

In keeping with his life’s work, the Davis family has asked for donations to be made in his honor — and thousands probably will be.

But a more fitting tribute would probably be for every student who is attending a college class today at UNC to pause a moment and reflect on not only what gifts have been given to them, but what they can, in turn, do for those who will follow.

That is the lesson Walter Davis taught all of us.

Published in Editorials on May 21, 2008 10:58 AM