WALTER ROYAL DAVIS 1920–2008
A ‘Quiet Power,’ He Worked and Spent to Benefit the State, UNC
Chancellor James Moeser said that Walter Davie service award from the University and At N.C. State University, for
Royal Davis was one of the first people the Distinguished Service Medal from the example, he contributed to numerous pro-
he visited when he came to Chapel Hill. It’s General Alumni Association. He was inducted grams in the College of Agriculture and Life
no wonder — besides being a generous phi- into the Order of the Golden Fleece. Davis Sciences and helped create one of the col-
lanthropist, Davis was in an elite class of high- also was on UNC’s Board of Visitors, and he lege’s largest scholarship endowments.
er education power brokers in the history of was a Duke University trustee. Davis helped flood victims after Hurricane
North Carolina and the University. Ned Cline, who is working on an author- Floyd. He gave for cancer research — he lost
Davis, an eastern North Carolina farm boy ized biography, said Davis pushed Spangler’s a stepdaughter to cancer — and for occupa-
and self-made Texas oil tycoon, died May 19 candidacy for presi- tional therapy. Cline said
at his home in Chapel Hill. He was 88. As a dent because he Davis was instrumental in
member of the UNC System Board of thought Spangler’s starting two Norfolk,Va.-
Governors and Carolina’s Board of Trustees, business experience based medical-related chari-
he was at times at odds with system would be good for ties, Operation Smile and
Presidents C.D. Spangler ’ 54 and Molly the university system. Physicians for Peace. The for-
Corbett Broad, and he resigned from the But he came to mer sponsors volunteers who
Board of Governors when he could not get believe Spangler, repair childhood facial defor-
the former removed, according to a journalist president from 1986 mities, and the latter sends
who is researching a biography of Davis. to 1998, was neglect- doctors to Third World coun-
But Davis will be remembered principally ing university busi- tries to train medical person-
for his wallet that opened up whenever he ness in favor of his nel.
saw a need, be it a sick child or one strug- own. Later, Cline He gave $1.4 million for
gling in school, a powerful political candidate said, Davis had little students who would teach in
or a big university. confidence that poor areas of northeastern
His name is on the high-rise library that Broad understood North Carolina.
opened in 1984 when UNC had outgrown North Carolina or In 2002, he created a
its primary undergraduate library. Though the political environ- scholarship fund in UNC’s
Davis gave millions of dollars to Carolina, the ment in the state. School of Nursing, a
library wasn’t built with his money, but stands Davis was very $100,000 gift to provide
His name is on UNC’s main library, but it was
as an example of his work among the state’s satisfied with current lobbying by Walter Royal Davis and not his annual scholarship support to
decision makers: In the early 1970s, he dis- President Erskine money that helped make it possible. undergraduate nursing stu-
suaded them from spreading the proceeds Bowles ’ 67, however dents who have a sound aca-
from the sale of Carolina’s utilities among all — his ties to the Bowles family run deep. demic record and demonstrate financial need.
the state’s public campuses — UNC got Davis was a supporter of Bowles’ father, Davis asked that consideration be given to
almost all of it, some $30 million, which built Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles ’ 41, in his 1972 first-generation college students or those
the Davis Library and paid for renovations to run for the governorship. But it was Bowles’ admitted to the school after completing pre-
Wilson Library and an addition to the Health successful opponent, James Holshouser ’ 60 nursing courses in community colleges.
Sciences Library. (LLB), who connected him with UNC. “Walter was, I believe, the most generous
“He was a power and a great source of Cline said Davis showed up at state man I’ve ever met,” actor Andy Griffith ’ 49, a
support and advice and counsel,” Moeser told Republican headquarters one day and longtime friend and neighbor in Dare
the Board of Trustees at its regular meeting in dropped off a bag. Though no one there even County, told The News & Observer. “He gave
May days after Davis’ death. “He was a quiet knew him, the bag contained $10,000 to help to people that nobody even knows about.”
power, but I felt it keenly.” retire Holshouser’s campaign debt. Davis also gave spontaneously. He was
Davis, who never went to college, served Davis first worked as a clerk and truck known to leave extra-large tips for waitresses.
three terms as a UNC trustee — 1973-81, driver after he graduated from Hargrave He walked into a church in Elizabeth City
1993-97 and 1997-2001 — and two years as Military Academy in 1938. The son of a and retired half its debt. He once bought a
chair of the board. His giving on the campus Pasquotank farmer couldn’t afford to go to fishing pier at Kitty Hawk after he was
stretches from library renovations to research college. He settled in Texas and borrowed unable to get his favorite soft drink there. In
and strategic initiatives, from programs for money to buy trucks to haul crude oil from a legendary moment as a UNC trustee in
students to the Southern Oral History wells to refineries. By 1968 he had a multi- 1999, he gave more than his share when a hat
Program and an oral history program in his million-dollar business. He later merged his was passed around for Hurricane Floyd vic-
name. He gave $1 million toward construc- company with Occidental Petroleum. He tims — he wrote a $100,000 check on the
tion of the Dean Smith Center and later kept a home in Midland, Texas. spot.
kicked in $400,000 more to help with the Besides UNC, Davis was a benefactor to Davis said he hoped to give away the last
cost of operations. public schools and colleges in the Albemarle of his money on his dying day, a philosophy,
He received UNC’s first Light on the Hill Sound region where he grew up. His philan- Cline said, that he adopted from one of his
Award in 2004 for service to the University thropy included scholarship funds and help to associates during his days in Texas.
and also the prestigious William Richardson individuals with school expenses. — David E. Brown ’ 75
COURTESY UNC NEWS SERVICES