Harry L. Davis Jr., 62

Harry Davis, WRC photojournalist who mentored youth, dies at 62

Harry Davis won several local Emmys and worked on films.
Harry Davis won several local Emmys and worked on films. (Family - Family)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Harry L. Davis Jr., 62, an award-winning photojournalist for WRC television who trained hundreds of youngsters aspiring to be broadcasters, died Jan. 21 at his home in Mooresville, N.C., after a heart attack.

Mr. Davis won five local Emmys during his 28 years at Channel 4. He also created Broadcast Factory, a nonprofit organization to train young people in broadcast communications, and its television program, "Teen TV." His work at WRC took him around the world, as well as into the thick of local news reporting.

On a day in 1988 when Nation of Islam members began patrolling an open-air drug market in Northeast Washington, Mr. Davis filmed 10 of them beating up a man who appeared to be carrying a sawed-off shotgun. After kicking and stomping the man and taking away his gun, the patrol turned on Mr. Davis and tried to seize his footage. When a reporter came to Mr. Davis's aide, the men beat him up, too. Mr. Davis kept the film, and it aired on WRC that evening.

WRC anchor Jim Vance, who knew Mr. Davis for 30 years, called him "one of the best cameramen and certainly one of the most stand-up guys I've known in my life."

"Back in the day, when I had a story to do, he was on the short list of people I would request as a cameraman," Vance said. "I always appreciate people who come to work prepared to do what's expected of him on a given day. When he put the camera up on his shoulder, he was a pro."

Mr. Davis covered the 1990 trial of then-Mayor Marion Barry on charges stemming from a sex and drug scandal. The photojournalist set up his "office" on the courthouse steps: two chairs; an umbrella; and a large box containing juice, water, rain gear, reading matter, writing matter and a telephone -- "all for business calls," he said, smiling.

With his son, who drives for the Joe Gibbs racing team, he created Marc Davis Motorsports, a mentoring group for younger NASCAR drivers. "From a black driver's perspective, there was no sponsorship money, ever," he told a Washington Post sportswriter in May. "So it doesn't matter. You have to make your own path."

A native Washingtonian and a graduate of Roosevelt High School, Harry Leroy Davis Jr. launched his career while attending West Virginia State College. Working to rebuild a hospital in Sierra Leone with fellow students, he shot still photos that were published in Life magazine.

In the 1960s, he attended the National Outdoor Leadership School, where he was one of the few African Americans learning to climb mountains. In the early 1970s, he joined a Speedmasters boat racing team.

He joined WRC in 1977 and soon was a fixture at major news events in the city. He also was on the camera crew for numerous feature films, including "Billy Jack Goes to Washington" (1977).

His marriages to Dorothy Chestnut Davis and Rickie Owens Davis ended in divorce.

Survivors include a son from a relationship, Marc Davis of Mooresville; a stepson, Kelvin Chestnut of Washington; three other children he helped raise, Eva Banks Laguerre of Laurel and Antonio Hughes and Patrick Keith Hughes, both of Mitchellville; his mother, Ruby C. Davis of Bowie; a brother, Robert Davis of Bowie; two sisters, Lisa Davis Johnson of Bowie and W. Renée Davis Banks of Houston; his grandmother, Laura J. Davis of Bowie; and eight grandchildren.

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