Florida A&M University and the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities have lost a treasure.
Ronald O. Davis, professor emeritus and former director of the Essential Theatre died Sept. 26,, 2014. On Oct. 19,, 2014, the Essential Theatre held a memorial to commemorate the legacy of Davis at the Charles Winter Wood Theatre.
Davis was born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., and pursued his baccalaureate and master’s degree in Speech and Drama with a minor in English from Tennessee A&M University.
Susan Ice, a former adjunct professor at FAMU in the Department of Physical Education, said Davis was an extremely talented person.
“Ron was an original person, extremely talented artistically,” Ice said. “He had a wonderful sense of humor, many life-long friends, anything involved with his beloved theatre was a passion,” said the former actress.
Davis came to FAMU after being recruited by S. Randolph Edmonds, as the Director of Theatre, which was then the Department of Speech and Drama.
Family, former students, faculty and friends attended his memorial Sunday. The cast of Black Nativity opened with musical selections, “Climbing up the Mountain/Hallelujah,” and Davis’ favorite ballad, “My Funny Valentine.”
Former Leon County Commissioner and former President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Anita Davis recalled Davis as being persistent, a word used of often to describe Davis throughout the night.
“He encouraged me to get my degree,” Davis said. “I was a community activist and I believed in the well being of our community, he asked me what I had my degree in, I told him all of things I accomplished but I never thought I needed a degree. He was concerned about people, students and promoting goodwill.”
Under Davis’ tenure he was determined to evolve the theatre program into a competitive, fully functional curriculum at FAMU. With road blocks such as inadequate funding from program cuts, Davis funded production programs with box office receipts and grants.
Sandra Rackley, former Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Florida State University thought Davis was special.
“He touched lives and formed unforgettable bonds; he had this tenacious passion for theatre,” Rackley said.
Davis was a key instrument in increasing recruitment for FAMU with the creation of the FAMU Connection under the presidency of Frederick S. Humphries in 1985.
The Connection’s purpose is to provide showcases during recruitment trips and create exposure for the Essential Theatre’s academic and production programs.
Also, under Davis’ leadership he received a $3 million Kellogg Grant that allowed the expansion of faculty, the Essential Theatre programming and a scholarship program.
The tribute continued with a poem, “When Tomorrow Starts Without Me” along with a few other documents pertaining to funeral preparations were found on his computer. The 29 Edition of the FAMU Connection followed the poem with song, “I Can Only Imagine.”
Luther D. Wells, associate director of FAMU Essential Theatre and a former student of the class of 1984, found Davis to be a mentor and a friend.
“He always provided wonderful guidance and advice,” said Wells.
Aubrey Perry, former dean of College of Arts & Sciences and Frederick S. Humphries, president emeritus of FAMU reflects on Davis’ legacy.
Theatre students performed a scene from Gem of the Ocean the first fall production. The program closed with a transcendent bell ceremony given by former student T’Keyah Crystal Keymah.
“I was a student in SBI [School of Business and Industry] and came to the theater for a lecture… the first play I saw was ‘The First Breeze of Summer’ the performance, the design of the set and the lights, without knowing it that’s when I feel in love with Dr. Ronald O. Davis,” Keymah said. “I looked at that production and I wanted in.”
Davis was a collector of bells, Keymah delivered a poem dedicated to Davis and as she shouted, “give a standing ovation to Ronald O. Davis,” the auditorium filled with bells ringing in jubilee of Davis and his legacy.
Davis served as the vice president for membership at the Tallahassee Little Theatre, now called Theatre Tallahassee. He was elected to the Board of the Cultural Resources Commission, now the Council on Culture and Arts (COCA). He was a member of Theta Alpha Phi, Phi Delta Kappa and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternities.
Sylvia A. Burton, Davis’s sister, reminisced on her brother’s success and accomplishments.
“I am so proud of his accomplishments, the intelligence and wisdom that he had. I am really happy in how renowned the Essential Theatre is and his visions. He was fun, but then he could be very serious and intellectual and expected that you listen and be serious too,” Burton laughed.
Davis died of a heart attack at the age of 80, in his summer home in Asheville, N. Car. He was buried in Nashville, Tenn.