‘Whit’ Davis, lifelong farmer and conservationist, dies at 91

‘Whit’ Davis, lifelong farmer and conservationist, dies at 91

Record-Journal
image

John "Whit" Davis delivered his remarks at the 2015 Chamber of Commerce annual dinner while seated in a wooden model of a tractor after receiving the organization's Citizen of the Year award. Davis, a lifelong farmer and conservationist, died Wednesday at the age of 91. | David Tranchida / The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — John “Whit” Davis, a local farmer who devoted his life’s work to the family farm, died Wednesday afternoon.

Across Stonington Thursday, Davis was remembered for a lifetime spent working to further the cause of conservation in the community and for his rich farming legacy.

First Selectman Rob Simmons said Davis, 91, left his mark both on the town and the state, and he was a pioneer for preserving and protecting land for future generations.

“He was a very special guy and there is no question that he lived a very full life,” he said. “He and I were always joshing and joking with each other, and when we’d borrow farm equipment from him and his son Larry, they’d always say ‘you borrow from us, we borrow from you, that’s the way we’ve been doing it for several hundred years.’”

Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center Executive Director Maggie Jones said the loss of Davis will be felt throughout the town and the state, as he had a far-reaching impact.

“He was a farmer and conservationist (who) walked the walk and talked the talk way ahead of his time,” she said. “It’s only been recently that the relationship between farming and preservation has been appreciated by the rest of the world.”

Stonington Conservation Commission Chairman Stanton Simm Jr. said no one has done more for conservation in the region than Davis.

“I was friends with Whit for more than 30 years and learned a lot from him about the importance of preservation and protecting our land,” he said. “I’m proud that his son Larry is following in his footsteps and carrying on his legacy.”

Simm said he’ll always remember the stories Davis would tell to his friends. He remembers one in particular that Davis would often tell about when he was 17 in 1942 and helped several FBI agents look for two Nazi spies who had landed in a raft in Watch Hill.

“They believed the spies were hiding out on Barn Island, so Whit rode down on his horse and took the FBI agents out to look for the spies,” he said. “The two spies were later caught on the Connecticut River.”

Along with dedicating his life to the Stanton-Davis homestead and farm — the oldest home in Stonington and the oldest working farm in the country, respectively — Davis served 25 years on the town’s Inland Wetlands & Water Courses Commission and Conservation Commission and tirelessly advocated for local preservation. Many, including Jones, credit him with starting local conversations about conservation and protecting the natural environment long before it was trendy to be “green.”

Last year, Davis was surprised at the farmers market at the Velvet Mill by an announcement from Lisa Konicki, executive director of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, that he was named the 2015 Citizen of the Year.

“Don’t know what the heck all the hoopla is about, after all, I’m just a country farm boy,” he said after the announcement. “I’m taken completely by surprise.”

State Rep. Diana Urban (D-Stonington) remembers Davis took her under his wing when she was just starting out in the legislature 15 years ago, as they both had grown up on local farms. The two formed an alliance and worked together on all sorts of small-farm issues, she said.

“His knowledge of the area history and the impact of farming and his ability to weave a yarn that would keep you fascinated while imparting really valuable information was incredible,” Urban said. “I will miss his endless enthusiasm, his knowledge, his commitment, his laugh, his stories and his delight in all things farming. He is and always will be an original.”

On Thursday, Konicki posted a photo of herself and Davis on Facebook. In an interview, she said her heart was heavy knowing that Davis had passed away, but that she will always be grateful for the time she spent with him.

“His legacy will live on through his family, his stories and the preservation of the Stanton-Davis Homestead. I was fortunate to get to know him on a personal level over the past year and his friendship is a gift that I will always treasure,” she said. “I take comfort knowing that our chamber of commerce had the opportunity to honor this fine man and share his story with the greater community at our annual dinner last year. It was an experience that he treasured and came at precisely the right time. The world has lost an incredible man.”

Elissa Bass, the marketing and communications coordinator at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, took to Facebook Thursday to remember Davis.

“I loved buying corn from Whit Davis at the Town Dock Farmers Market. A true piece of Stonington he was. Rest in peace, sir.”

bwhite@thewesterlysun.com


Support Quality Local Journalism

Latest Videos




X