Robert “Bob” Davis moved from Greensburg to Pittsburgh four years ago, but despite Squirrel Hill’s abundance of synagogues, he refused to join any. Instead, the nonagenerian frequently returned to Greensburg for services at Congregation Emanu-El Israel.
“This was his community,” said Rabbi Sara Rae Perman, the congregation’s spiritual leader.
Davis passed away Monday, Dec. 15. He was 93.
A Westmoreland County native, Davis lived a life full of recognition. As a high school athlete in Jeannette, he excelled at track. By the time he graduated in 1939, he was the highest ranking runner in the state. For his prowess, Davis received an athletic scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. There, he lettered in cross country and track, served as team captain his senior year and won Pitt’s Gold Shoe Award.
Following his graduation from college in 1943, Davis enlisted in the Navy. He served in World War II and fought on Normandy’s Utah Beach. After the war, Davis returned to work in his father’s grocery store in Greensburg. While raising a family with wife Phyllis, Davis developed his father’s store into Davis Supermarkets, Inc.
Through his professional and social endeavors, Davis became highly regarded. Over a five-decade tenure as president of Davis Supermarkets, he received honors including Brand Names’ Outstanding Food Retailer of the Year (1966); Congregation Emanu-El Israel’s first Man of the Year (1977); and the University of Pittsburgh Legacy Laureate (2013). In presenting the latter, Sharon P. Smith, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, called Davis “an outstanding representative of the Greatest Generation.”
Through diverse initiatives, Davis strove to benefit Greensburg and Westmoreland County. He was a member of Westmoreland County’s NAACP and Salvation Army chapters, Seton Hill University’s Catholic Center for Holocaust Education and president of the Central Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce.
“We are in debt to his service to the organization, and the success that we enjoy as an organization is due in large part to the legacy of Bob Davis, a driving force in our organization,” said Chad Amond, the current president of the chamber of commerce.
Walter Lyons, Greensburg’s chief of police, called Davis “a very community-minded individual.” Having known Davis for nearly 40 years, Lyons said, “I have always liked and admired Bob and thought that he was a credit to the Greensburg community.”
Davis’ vast communal involvement rendered him “Mr. Greensburg” for many. Perman explained that Davis utilized this notability for good. With such a recognized and regarded name, Davis often lent it to the synagogue and other organizations for support.
“People would respond to him and knew if he was endorsing it, if it was important to him, it was important,” said the rabbi.
Davis alluded to this in a 2013 article when he was named a Newsmaker by TribLive News. In the article, Davis was quoted as saying, “In life your attitude will define you. Every day, do a good deed. A good name is your most precious legacy.”
Even into his 90s, Davis upheld this belief. His daughter, Carole Davis, explained that her father would regularly join a small group of men who traveled to Latrobe to help the area’s struggling congregation, Beth Israel Congregation, make a Shabbat minyan.
And in those instances he knew that enough people would be at the synagogue, Davis would still venture out to Latrobe, said the daughter. “He just kind of felt maybe someone wouldn’t show up.”
Beth Israel member Mickey Radman called Davis “the absolute definition of a mensch.”
“He was the kindest and gentlest person you would ever want to meet,” said Radman. “He’s just a good man in every aspect of being good. I don’t ever remember him saying a bad word about anyone or ever doing a bad thing; of ever having a malicious intent toward anyone. He’s just a good person, and we are going to miss him terribly.”
Robert Davis is survived by his wife of 70 years, Phyllis Davis. He is also survived by his children, Rachel Leah (Terry) Davis, Carole Davis, James and Marilyn Davis and Steven Davis; grandchildren Jeffrey (late Katherine) Toig, Sarah Toig and Rae-Ann Wood, Elisabeth Duffy and Sam Chatterton-Kirchmeier, Lauren Davis, Kate Davis, Margot and Jacob Laksin, Joshua Davis, Susan Davis and Andrew Mitchell; great-grandchildren Cole Feins, Ursa Mitchell, Isla Mitchell, Caleb Duffy and Natan Laksin. Davis is preceded in death by great-grandson, Noah Wood Toig. He is also survived by his sisters, Norma and Lawrence Brodell, Melva (late Mark) Weisberger and Ada (late Stanford) Davis and a multitude of loving family and friends.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.