William Delford (Willie) Davis (1934–2020)
Willie Davis was a millionaire business executive, civic leader, and former football standout who grew up in Miller County. Davis achieved athletic success in football at the high school, college, and professional levels. After retiring from a National Football League (NFL) career of twelve seasons (1958–1969), he moved into the business world, where he attained equal success. Davis was a member of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
William Delford (Willie) Davis was born on July 24, 1934, in Lisbon, Louisiana, to David and Nodie Davis. After his parents separated when he was eight, his mother moved the family to Texarkana (Miller County). His mother supported the family by working as a cook at the Texarkana Country Club. Willie Davis worked two jobs while attending high school, including working in the locker room at the country club, shining shoes and picking up towels.
Davis excelled on the defensive line at Texarkana’s segregated high school, Booker T. Washington High School. After his senior season for the Lions, he was recruited by the legendary college coach Eddie Robinson at Louisiana’s Grambling College (now Grambling State University). Davis served as the defensive team captain for two years and was twice named to the All America team for black colleges. He also excelled in the classroom, making the dean’s list for two years and graduating in 1956 with a BS in math and industrial arts.
Davis was drafted in the fifteenth round by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Just two weeks into his NFL career in 1956, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. In 1958, after approximately two years in the military, he began his professional football career.
Davis played two seasons for the Browns (which could not decide if he was best suited for offense or defense) before being traded to the Green Bay Packers. In his pro career, he played in 162 consecutive games, 138 of which were during his ten years with the Packers. As a Packer, the 6’3″, 245-pound defensive lineman played on six championship teams including Super Bowl I in 1967 and Super Bowl II in 1968. He set the Packer record of twenty-one career fumbles recovered and was named to the All Pro team five times, in 1962 and in 1964 through 1967. Legendary Packer coach Vince Lombardi once said that Davis could “handle a tackle and fight off a block as well as anyone in the game.”
When Davis retired from football in 1969, the Packers honored him with Willie Davis Day. In 1975, he was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame, and in 1981 he was inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame, the first Grambling alumnus inducted. In 1999, The Sporting News listed him as sixty-ninth on its list of the 100 greatest pro football players.
During his last years as a player, Davis attended the University of Chicago, earning a master’s in business administration in 1968. In 1969, he purchased the West Coast Beverage Company and served as the company president for the next eighteen years. At about this time, he served as a color commentator for NFL broadcasts for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). In 1976, he became president and CEO of All Pro Broadcasting, Inc., a Los Angeles, California, company that owned several radio stations in southern California and the Midwest. He eventually owned several radio stations himself. In 1984, he served as the director of the Olympic Committee in Los Angeles; that same year, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the President’s Commission on the Executive Exchange.
He served on numerous company boards, including those of the National Association of Broadcasters, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Schlitz Brewing Company, and the Kauffman Foundation. He was also an emeritus trustee for both the University of Chicago and Marquette University. In 2001, he co-chaired and founded the Vince Lombardi Titletown Legends, a charitable organization. He was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year by the NFL and received the Career Achievement Award from the NFL Alumni. He also served as independent director of Fidelity National Financial, Inc. Davis was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2007.
Davis had a son and daughter with his first wife, Ann, whom he married in the 1960s. His son, Duane Davis, became a movie and television actor. After he and his first wife divorced, he married Andrea Erickson in the mid-1990s. Davis lived with his third wife, Carol Davis, and remained active in his many business and charitable endeavors before his death on April 15, 2020, from kidney failure.
For additional information:
Bailey, Jim. “Luck, Talent Allowed Davis to Miss Life’s Reversals.” Arkansas Gazette, January 30, 1983, pp. 1E, 13E.
Davis, Willie, with Jim Martyka and Andrea Erickson Davis. Closing the Gap: Lombardi, the Packers Dynasty, and the Pursuit of Excellence. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2012.
“Defensive Playmaker Willie Davis Dead at 85.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 16, 2020, p. 2C
Krupsaw, Jeff, ed. Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes before Integration. Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing, Co., 2002.
“Willie Davis.” The History Makers. http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/willie-d-davis-41 (accessed April 8, 2020).
Willie Davis Official Fan Site. http://www.cmgww.com/football/davis/ (accessed April 8, 2020).
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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