We’re here today to mourn the passing, but also honor and cherish the life of a good man, a righteous man, Dr. Daniel Henry Davis. I want to begin by talking about the worst part, the end of his life. Dan Davis was the last person that I would have thought would die before his time.
He did everything right. He was healthier and more muscular and in better shape than any of us. He was a surfer and a skier and above all, a champion swimmer. In December, the middle of December, last December, he won four races in a swim meet and came in second in a fifth race. It turns out that he was in fourth stage cancer at the time. The diagnosis would come a month later. Can you imagine? What a savage disease that could ravage the body of a guy like this! There are no lessons to be learned here. I can’t tell you that he should have done this or could have done that. I can’t tell you that a doctor messed up or that anyone was in denial or that the family did not do something. Dan and Ellen and the boys and the doctors and everyone else did everything right. There are no lessons to learn from this. It could not be prevented. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.
But it happened. And he fought with all his might. And he fought with all his will. His attitude was fantastic. Ellen, as I’ll talk about in a few minutes, was beyond perfect. Dan clung to every hope, especially to see Andrew and Kim’s child. But it wasn’t to be.
I hope that someday, when it’s your time, you get to pass away with your loved ones around you like he did. He wanted to die by the water; he got to the water before he passed on. His beloved wife and beloved sons and his pregnant daughter-in-law who was carrying his future and his mother and his brother and all of his loved ones were there. If you have to go, I hope you get to go like that.
There are people here who will think that they know why this happened. If you have a theory, please don’t share it, because the truth is that we don’t have a clue. I have no idea why this happened. I go crazy when I think what this guy would have done with thirty more years. I try not to think about that, because if anyone deserved more years, it was Dan Davis.
Dan said to me, when he knew he was dying, “I had a good life. I had the best marriage and I have great kids. I feel like I accomplished a lot. I lived the way I wanted to live. I did the things I wanted to do. I wish I had more time, but I had a good life.”
Indeed, he did. So let’s not talk about his death but about his life.
Daniel Henry Davis was born in New York City and moved here to New Haven when he was 14. His parents, Moe and Faye, raised him, along with his beloved brother Paul, to be a good and positive and productive person. We cannot calculate the loss that Faye feels today; all that we can do is to say that no parent should have to go through the loss of a child, and wish her strength at this terrible time.
Dan had great memories of Hamden High. There’s a glass of water from the old Hamden High swimming pool in his basement. He got a Bachelor’s from Southern, a Physical Therapy degree from Columbia, a master’s in Special Ed from Southern as well as a 6th year administrative degree, and a Ph.D, in Educational Psychology from NYU. Take his highest degree. There are people here today who didn’t know he had a Ph.D. Why not? Because that was pure Dan, not to use the title or talk about it.
At Benhaven he was a Gym teacher who worked his way up to Assistant Director. He was in the trenches, but he was also published. People called on his expertise. He could solve problems that no one else could. He was the troubleshooter. He taught teachers how to teach. He saved the government millions by bringing kids into the system. He never moved a kid without being able to guarantee that he could help their lives.
He was honored with a chair from Southern for service to the school and the community.
His record in swimming is astonishing; he won more prizes than I can count. He was on a relay team that set a world record.
There are lots of people here who don’t know of his incredible accomplishments, or about the fact that he was published, or that he won all of those swimming awards.The degrees and the awards are in their original folders or envelopes and stuck in a drawer. If you didn’t know some of these things, it is because Dan Davis thought that your accomplishments are inside you. They’re not on a wall or in a drawer; they’re in you. You know what you did. You know what you accomplished. You know that you did good things and had a big impact on people. You know why you did what you did. You know what opportunities you passed on and you know why you didn’t go for money or power. And you are happy inside yourself.
Dan believed that every person was important. This was right to the very end. In the hospital, he valued every single person, whether it was the aide giving him a sponge-bath or a nurse or a doctor. Dan didn’t see color. We cannot overestimate the importance of this very basic philosophy. Think about his work with special people. An autistic person was as important as anyone else. People are people. He said, “If people would just give proper credit to each other, this would be a very different world. We all have different roles to play.”
While every person was important, his loved ones were most important to him.
Dan and Ellen have had a very special marriage. I wish that every marriage could be like this one. The most important thing to understand is that they were best friends. It started when he called on the night of the blackout in New York City. It’s strange for me that this funeral is being held on a day of what may be the worst blackout in U.S. history. They were married in 1966 and it has always been wonderful. They are a real couple. Anything I say about Dan in this marriage I can say about Ellen as well. They were both 100% supportive and devoted. It is absolutely true that Ellen has been beyond words during these months of Dan’s sickness. She had her head on perfectly straight. She knew what her job was. She put everything else aside and did what she needed and wanted to do. Her priorities were perfect. She showed calm and patience during the most trying times. As true as all this is, we also know that when Ellen had her surgeries and problems, Dan was always there in the same way.
Andrew and Matthew had everything in a father they could possibly have wanted. As busy as he was, as many interests as he had, Dan was always there for them. If Andrew had a paper route on a freezing morning in the winter, Dan would be there for him at 6:00 A.M. If that changed his schedule, it didn’t matter. Somehow he made the time to be there. He was the Soccer Coach. And if he didn’t like the sport they were participating in, he’d still be Assistant Coach, say, in Little League. He wanted to be there, he wanted to be with them and near them. Dan helped Matt with his schoolwork, and Matt and Dan went surfing together. He came out west in February to see Andrew and Kim and to go skiing. Dan always had good advice on work, on relationships, on finances as they got older. He was a wise man. They found him to be consistent and methodical and yet flexible. They also had fun with him. As hard as he worked, he didn’t bring his problems home with him. He always had a smile on his face. He never lost his temper. Yesterday the boys started to say that they never saw his bad side, but then they decided that he did not have a bad side. Kim has been very special for Dan. And the greatest gift was when Kim came to be near him at the end and he could stare at her stomach, thinking about the baby who is to be.
Paul and Debbie have always been there and have been especially incredible during this last horrible period. Dan loved his nieces and nephews Mara and Ken, Meredith and Kevin, Jessica and Seth, his close cousins and his dear friends. All of you have been great in both the good times and the bad.
Keep your sense of humor, even in the darkest night.