Clayton Davis has lived a life of growth.
From an early age, he grew in faith and knowledge, and as he nurtured fertile relationships with people he’s met along the way, he’s also aided in the cultivation of Western North Carolina’s robust agriculture industry.
Davis, 90, was celebrated Tuesday night by about 50 folks who’ve known him throughout his life in a celebration both of him and his recently published memoirs, titled “My Life’s Blessing, Experiences and Opportunities.”
When Davis, currently a Maggie Valley alderman, entered the Maggie Valley Town Hall Pavilion after a meeting, he didn’t offer too many words but smiled from ear to ear upon seeing friends and family.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s so great to see so many of you here.”
Those in attendance wore name tags displaying their name and association with Davis, including “neighbor,” “family,” “ag community” and “church.” Along with a full spread of food — complete with cake and punch — on display at the front of the pavilion was a series of plaques Davis has received over the years recognizing his commitment to service, as well as a book of heartfelt letters from friends and colleagues he’d worked with that was given to him during a retirement ceremony.
In attendance was Maggie Valley Public Works Director Mike Mehaffey, who like Davis, is a local man with an agriculture background. He noted not only how impactful Davis has been in that community but also marveled at both his humility and knowledge.
“The ceremony, I thought it honored him in a way that he was pleased with,” Mehaffey said. “But he never would have agreed with it.”
“He probably knows more about plant species and how they adapt to our area than anyone else,” he added. “If you want to know what’s blooming on the Blue Ridge Parkway, call Clayton and he’ll tell you exactly where and when to go.”
Life of service
Davis’s wife, Lovelle, provided The Mountaineer with a biography of her husband, which impressively laid out a timeline of ambitious service. Davis was born in his grandfather’s farmhouse in the Bush Creek community near Bryson City on Jan. 15, 1931, to parents Clyde and Beulah.
“He was taught to work hard, be respectful, responsible and honest,” Lovelle Davis wrote. “He learned those lessons well as reflected in his life’s story.”
In his memoirs, Davis wrote, “Two of my favorite times were when dad would read us a portion of a Zane Grey novel in the evenings or tell us a story that had a life lesson. Mom would bake oven bread and make hominy in the winter, particularly when it snowed.”
“If I had been given the opportunity to select my parents, without doubt, I would have chosen them,” he also wrote.
In high school, Davis joined the 4-H club, Future Farmers of America (FFA), student council (he eventually became the class president) and the Beta Club. In 1949, he graduated from Swain High School with an A average and spoke at his graduation.
Next up for Davis was pursuing further education at North Carolina State University. Early on, he took a class in agronomy and loved it so much that he eventually pursued a master’s degree in that discipline.
On Dec. 20, 1952, while at NCSU, Davis married his sweetheart, Kathleen. They would eventually have four kids — Steve, Sharon, Debbie and Rebecca — and also served as foster parents to Pedro. Kathleen passed away in 2003 after battling breast cancer. In 2005, he married Lovelle, who said she’d spent her life fashioning a vision of the man she’d want to spend the rest of her life with — that man was Clayton Davis.
“It was a God-ordained thing,” she said.
While Davis was offered an opportunity to be a professor at his alma mater, as well as a job establishing an agriculture program in Peru, he turned those down and instead became a farm agent in Waynesville. While getting into that job, he also served as an officer in the National Guard.
“He says that 15 of the best years of his life, 1957-72, were spent as a county agricultural extension agent in Haywood County,” Lovelle Davis wrote.
Davis worked with beef cattle, sheep and dairy cows but ultimately specialized in crops, including apples, tomatoes and strawberries. This was the beginning of his quest to develop what would become a multi-million dollar industry in the region.
But before he got too far, he began giving back. Davis became a coach for local 4-H and FFA teams with an aim to “help invest in the next generation.” Within four years, the FFA team went from placing 13th in the state to taking home the top prize. Three Haywood County youth also won national contests under his leadership.
On Oct. 17, 1975, Davis was named manager of the Western North Carolina Farmers Market, a position he excelled at, earning the state department of agriculture’s employee of the year award in 1980.
In a tribute to Davis at that time, North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Jim Graham said “[Davis] had shown superior leadership in developing and operating WNC farmers market in Asheville ... Since his coming to manage the market in 1975, the market has constantly grown in business, buildings and service.”
“If growth is success, Clayton Davis is one of the most successful men I know,” he added.
Davis was also selected to attend the Government Executive Institute at Chapel Hill. Once they completed the course, the Rural Development Association was formed to improve rural areas of North Carolina. Davis was elected to be the first president of the organization. During that time, the farmer’s market, under Davis’s direction, continued to thrive.
In 1985, the farmer’s market had grown to become the sixth-ranked tourist attraction in the state. Davis took pride in the market and worked hard to make it the best it could be.
“Produce coming into the market was thoroughly checked for quality,” Lovelle Davis wrote. “If a farmer tried three times to get poor produce into the market by putting the bad on the bottom, he was out. A stall would no longer be rented to him. That standard helped make the market the busiest in the southeastern United States for a number of years.”
Davis, who throughout his career gave credit to other colleagues, local agencies and support from the state — including Graham — was named the nation’s most outstanding market manager by the national association of produce market managers in 1987.
Perhaps most impressive, Davis was eventually chosen to oversee the construction, development and management for Buncombe County’s Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, which continues to be a tremendous boon for Buncombe County. In his honor, the facility’s arena was named the J. Clayton Davis Arena.
In 1991, Davis, who at one point also acted as the assistant agricultural commissioner for Western North Carolina, was one of the first-ever inductees into the Western North Carolina Agriculture Hall of Fame.
Faith a priority
Davis has also occasionally stepped outside the bounds of agriculture. Along with serving on HomeTrust Bank’s board of directors (four years of which he was chairman), he also ventured into the world of marketing for a furniture part manufacturer.
“He was rather surprised to realize he was interested in a job offer as the director of marketing at the Woodloc Company, which made wood joint fasteners for furniture,” Lovelle Davis wrote.
“When Davis joined the Woodloc Company, its two other marketing men and the company had 30 customers,” she added. “When he left three years later, there were 300 customers, including 18 of the 20 largest furniture manufacturers in the nation.”
One of the most important cornerstones of Davis’s life has been his Christian faith. Not long after his move to Haywood County, he began having young people over to attend spiritual youth programs on Sunday evenings in his Maggie Valley home. He eventually helped form the Waynesville Christian Fellowship, located across from the Lake Junaluska Assembly.
“His main objective was to explain the gospel according to God’s word, which resulted in a number of young people coming to saving faith,” Lovelle Davis wrote. “Now in his latter years, in various places, he comes in contact with those who attended those meetings and they express their appreciation for all he invested in them.”
In 2016, Davis was appointed to a position as a Maggie Valley alderman. In 2017, he was elected to a full term, which will finish up at the end of this year. During the celebration honoring Davis, Mayor Mike Eveland read a proclamation stating, “He has served this board and subsequently the people of Maggie Valley with his hallmark characteristics of thoughtfulness, kindness, sincerity and faith.”
Eveland ended the proclamation with perhaps the best summary of the earnest ethos that allowed Davis to impact so many lives.
“Mr. Davis said it best,” Eveland said as he began quoting his friend and fellow board member. “’Looking back on 90 years, a long and winding road, it’s not just things that I have done, it’s the folks I have known.’ We are all better people for knowing you; you are a man that made a difference.’”