It was November 13, 1983.
I was thirteen years old, just 10 days away from my 14th birthday, and I stood just out of view of a church congregation near the top of a staircase that led down into warm water where a pastor waited for me.
That pastor was only a few years older than my dad, but had the persona of a kind grandfatherly figure.
And he was about to baptise me.
That pastor was Don Davis.
Don had a knack for remembering names. He would stand at the door after a service and greet churchgoers as they left, speaking to each one by name. It was a talent that amazed me: I’m lousy with names. Faces I tend not to forget, but I struggle to remember people’s names, even moments after I’ve been introduced to them.
But Don did it the right way. Beyond the names themselves, he remembered the people behind the names. He greeted them with positive, uplifting words, referencing, whenever he could, something interesting going on in their lives; it was never in an embarrassing way, but rather in a way that was both respectful and indicative of someone who truly cared about someone else.
You knew, when you were around Don, that he cared because he showed you that he’d paid attention to you and was interested in what was happening in your life and how he could encourage you.
The Rev. Billy Graham is regarded by many as the standard to which all preachers should aspire. So it’s perhaps something of a cliché to compare any pastor to Graham. At the risk of being guilty of committing such a cliché, I would make one simple connection between the two men: that of their integrity.
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Graham, but my impression of him is what is often referred to as “the genuine article.” He doesn’t seem like a man around whom you’d crack even the slightest off-color remark. There is a goodness that seems to emanate from him that you somehow wouldn’t want to disturb with inappropriate talk or behavior.
Don had this about him, too. When he spoke of being a Christian and gave advice on how to live the right way, you just understood that it came from a man who did so himself. For those of us who are Christians, perhaps that’s one of the nicest legacies we can hope to leave.
None of us, of course, is perfect. Don would be the first to remind us of that at this moment.
Don never made you feel like he considered himself to be incapable of a mistake.But Don’s personality, his very presence in the room, made you feel like you were near someone who very special, someone you should be more like. And in doing so, he provided a road map of sorts through his example for people who wanted to experience that level of discipleship in their own lives.
The last time I saw Don in person was back in January, at the funeral of my friend Rick Stilwell. Already fighting a brave health battle, he greater me with a hug and asked how things were going for me in Charleston. It was the first time I’d talked to him in at least a year or more, but he remembered where I was and what I was up to. And he gave me that encouragement so many of us had come to depend on.
It always feels like a terrible thing to lose such a good man here on Earth. But I’m grateful that such good men do exist, and grateful that, once in a while, our paths actually cross.
Rest in peace, Don.