Bob Davis, veteran Washington area radio host, arts patron, dies at 90

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011; 11:38 PM

Bob Davis, a former stage actor who became one of the leading voices of WGMS, where he added show tunes and interviews with theater personalities to the classical radio station's repertoire, died of heart ailments Feb. 23 at his home in Chevy Chase. He was 90.

His death was confirmed by Henry Schalizki, a real estate agent he married in Washington in June on their 62nd anniversary as a couple. They wed weeks after same-sex marriage became legal in the nation's capital.

With a resonant voice and warmly earnest delivery, Mr. Davis was an on-air presence at WGMS (103.5 FM) for more than 50 years until the station went defunct in 2007.

For decades, Mr. Davis conducted lunch-time interview shows at the Kennedy Center with visiting entertainers such as Angela Lansbury, and he hosted a program on Saturdays featuring the music of Broadway and Hollywood.

He once attributed his longevity at WGMS to "a complete lack of ambition, and I was very satisfied at the station."

In addition to his work at WGMS, where he also specialized in theater reviews, he introduced classical music concerts at venues including the private Landon School in Bethesda.

With Schalizki, Mr. Davis attended an estimated 6,000 opening nights of Washington area theater productions. Their arts patronage and philanthropy earned them a special honor in 2008 at the Helen Hayes Awards, the Washington theater community's equivalent of the Tony Awards.

Linda Levy Grossman, president and chief executive of the Helen Hayes Awards, called Mr. Davis a "stalwart champion of the theater during his long career at WGMS, unfailingly conveying his appreciation for the artistry on Washington stages even when his management suggested the airtime might be better spent elsewhere."

Robert Donald Davis Jr. was born Sept. 3, 1920, in Battle Creek, Mich. He worked at radio stations in Battle Creek and Terre Haute, Ind., and acted in community theater productions before serving in the Navy during World War II.

After a period in the USO entertaining troops, he joined WBAL (Channel 11) in Baltimore and hosted a variety show. In the early 1950s, he moved to Washington as a staff announcer at WOL (1450 AM) and made promotional appearances sporting a cowboy hat in the role of Dusty, the Connecticut Avenue Hillbilly.

There were no such requirements at the classical music outlet WGMS, which he joined in 1953 and where he remained full time until 1985. He continued doing substitute hosting and theater reviews until the station folded in 2007.

Schalizki, who is 89, is Mr. Davis's only immediate survivor. In a Washington Post interview about their marriage, they said they always felt accepted by their peers, even during their first years together - decades before the gay liberation movement of the 1970s.

"We were considered a couple, curiously enough, considering the homophobia in existence at the time," Mr. Davis told The Post. "They seemed to enjoy our company."

They embraced a life of collecting art and traveling by Concorde and cruise ship. Schalizki legally adopted Mr. Davis in 1990 for tax and inheritance benefits, then nullified the adoption weeks before they married.

Schalizki once said they endured as a couple because of a motto they embraced: "I'm always right, and he gets his way."

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