Family and friends of Ethel Davis remember a woman who lived her life in service to others, whether it was teaching the wonders of mathematics to high school students or anonymously dispensing aid and comfort to the needy.
Davis, who died May 7, is survived by her husband, former University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr.; daughter Sonya Cole of Pine Bluff; and son Lawrence A. Davis III of Little Rock; in addition to four siblings, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Davis attended AM&N College, now UAPB, for her bachelor’s degree in math and earned a Master of Education from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She made history in Pine Bluff as the first African-American to be hired to teach at Dollarway High School. Her teaching career, which spanned more than 30 years, ended with her retirement from Pine Bluff High School in 1996.
She was a member of several education associations and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. For 21 years she served as first lady at UAPB.
Delores Davis is the sister-in-law of Ethel Davis.
“I’ve known her since I was a senior in high school,” Delores Davis said. “I met her when she and Lawrence were courting. My husband Larnell is Lawrence’s brother. She was my best friend. I’m really going to miss her. Every day she had something planned for us to do. Either golfing or if it was raining she had something else planned. She was a sweet and caring person.”
“There was a young lady at our church who came one day without a coat,” Delores Davis said. “Ethel went somewhere and got this girl a coat. She didn’t want her to know who gave it; she just handed it to the choir director — she was in the choir — and asked him to give it to her. She was always doing what she could to help others. She would say, ‘let’s do something’ for this person or for that person.”
Ethel Davis taught the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church bible school for many years before handing the duties over to others, Delores Davis said.
“She stopped teaching but she still helped,” Delores Davis said.
Elaine Davis is a longtime friend who attended Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church with Lawrence and Ethel Davis.
“I have known Ethel for more than 40 years,” Elaine Davis said. “She and her husband were the founders of our church. I joined the church in its infancy. Ethel and I socialized together during church activities and events like Super Bowl parties. Ethel was an elegant person. She didn’t walk; she glided across the floor.”
Elaine Davis said that Ethel Davis had a good sense of humor.
“There was this time when we were having a revival,” Elaine Davis said. “The preacher was preaching away, bless his heart. Ethel took a church program and drew the back of the preacher’s bald head complete with the hair around the edges. She passed it down the row and everyone was trying not to laugh. Ethel acted like she had nothing to do with it.”
Elaine Davis said that Ethel Davis was also a stickler for keeping to a schedule.
“She was the Sunday school superintendent and was always there first,” Elaine Davis said. “She would start on time even if it was just her and her kids. Our church starts at 10. I am the minister of music, and she started the service once without me; she even started once before the preacher got there.”
Elaine Davis said that when Ethel Davis told you to do something, you did it.
“You did it because of the respect she garnered,” Elaine Davis said. “That’s just the kind of person she was. It wasn’t that she demanded it. People were just glad to do it.”
UAPB Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson remembers a special woman.
“She was a very pleasant, warm-hearted person,” Johnson said. “She was a teacher who enjoyed teaching and enjoyed seeing her students learn. Overall, she was a great person to know and to be around. She always had a pleasant smile on her face. She was just an ideal person.”
Elgie Goss served as principal of Pine Bluff High School during Davis’ tenure there in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“She was one of the greatest teachers as far as attitude, and her ability to teach and work with youth was excellent,” Goss said. “She was a great team partner with other teachers and just a wonderful person to work with. Her passing is a great loss for our community.”
David Meroney, now living in the Little Rock area, was one of Davis’ students at Pine Bluff High School during the late 1980s.
“I was sorry to read that one of my favorite teachers has passed away,” Meroney said. “Mrs. Ethel Davis was my Algebra II teacher in 11th grade. She was demanding of all her students but very fair and engaging. As a math teacher I thought she had all the answers to math questions. But algebra is an exercise in logic, and I’ll always be thankful to her for planting the aspirational goal in my thinking — that I should be capable of solving problems that even she couldn’t. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. I took that to heart and never shied away from the hard problems of math or of life. Her family is in my thoughts.”
Mattie Collins taught 10th-grade history at PBHS while Davis was teaching there.
“She was an excellent no-nonsense math teacher and her students learned,” Collins said. “Her students loved her because she had a beautiful attitude and personality. Faculty and administrators loved her as well. She always had a beautiful smile and a wonderful personality. She was a teacher who was determined for her students to learn math.”