MATHESON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Interviewer: Transcriber:
Latham Davis, Jr. Robert Clayton Ruth C. Marston
November 12, 2001
Interview with Latham Davis, Jr. 1
November 12, 2001
C: This is Bob Clayton. The date is November 12, 2001, and I have the distinct
pleasure of talking with Mr. Latham Davis, Jr., a true old Southern gentleman from Gainesville, Florida. We are at Mr. Davis' beautiful residence here in Haile
Plantation. Hello, Latham, how are you today? D: Hey, Coach. Glad to have you aboard. C: It's my pleasure. Were your folks born here in Gainesville? D: No. My folks were from Kentucky. C: Tell me about them. Where were they born, and when did they come to
D: They were from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, about 90 miles north of Nashville on
441 on the road between Nashville and Chicago. C: Both of them were from Kentucky? D: Yes. Dad was in World War I. They came to Florida in roughly 1938 or 1939. C: What brought them to Florida? The weather? D: The Chevrolet dealership became available in Gainesville. We were country
folks. We had hardly heard of Florida, much less Gainesville. We lived in the southeast all the time I was growing up. My dad borrowed the money from
General Motors and a prayer and came to town.
C: Well, the money and the prayer both helped, no doubt. D: I guarantee you. It was pretty rough for a while, but he worked like the dickens,
and Gainesville was mighty good to my father and subsequently, very good to me
in the automobile business.
C: The dealership was called?
D: University Chevrolet.
C: I remember it well. What was the location of University Chevrolet? D: University Chevrolet was located across the street from the Gainesville Sun and
the old Post Office (now the Hippodrome), also opposite Evans Soda Fountain and the Lyric Theater. Presently on the Chevrolet block is a three or four-floor building with restaurants, business offices, and a few apartments. This building is
Interview with Latham Davis, Jr. 2
November 12, 2001
connected to a multi-story parking garage with an overhead walkway over the
street around the structure.
C: Where did you live when you first came to Gainesville?
D: Over in an area called Palm Terrace, very close to the current home for the
president of the University of Florida. It used to be the tennis courts. The
president's home had not been built yet. We lived very close to that.
C: That's not far from what is now 22 nd Street. West of it a little bit?
D: Yes, west a couple of streets.
C: How old were you when they came to Gainesville?
D: I was in the University of North Carolina at the time. I guess I was about 19 or
C: Okay. You didn't go to the public school system here in Gainesville.
D: I was in Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia, and later on I went
to the University of North Carolina. The primary reason that I went to Riverside Military Academy was that I was just an average student in school and had a hard time getting a passing grade. My dad was with General Motors, the Chevrolet Motor Division. At that time Chevrolet and General Motors used to move their employees around quite a bit because it was the thing to do. They didn't have to pay the moving expenses or be responsible for real estate, and we moved from pillar to post in the southeast because of his position with Chevrolet and General Motors. The last place that we were stationed was in Charlotte, North Carolina, and that's where I heard about the University of North Carolina. I guess I went to the University of North Carolina for financial reasons, because at Riverside Military Academy I also heard people talking about Chapel Hill. At that time, I could save them some money by going to the state university where they lived.
This was before they moved to Gainesville.
C: Now, when you went to the University of North Carolina, you came back to
Gainesville during the summer?
D: Yes. I did not graduate from the University of North Carolina. I stayed at
Riverside Military Academy for four years. Having no reason to think that we were going to get into World War II did not have anything to do with me getting a commission, but I stayed there four years and got my commission as Second Lieutenant in the Infantry, in R.O.T.C. program, before I went to Chapel Hill. I was in Chapel Hill about a year and a half, going on two years, when the war started and I was called into service. During that period was when they moved to
Interview with Latham Davis, Jr. 3
November 12, 2001
C: Then it was after World War 11 when you first came to Gainesville, Florida.
D: Right. I was discharged in 1946 and came to Gainesville and went into business
with my father fortunately instead of going back to the University of North Carolina or the University of Florida. General Motors at that time was pretty stingy with passing out their dealerships, like the Coca Cola franchise used to be.
It used to be a pretty valuable franchise. If I hadn't gotten a little experience with my father from 1946 to 1949, the year he died, I don't think there's any question that I never would have gotten the Gainesville franchise. I had gotten to be a Captain, and I think that might have helped me a little bit on my resume with General Motors after my father died, because they thought maybe I had a little leadership experience, and the people that had been with my father stuck with me
and it worked out okay.
C: I remember when you came back because I was living in Gainesville at that time
and, in fact, you sold me my first car. I think my folks co-signed with me. That
was in 1950, 1 believe. It worked fine. I had no objection to that car.
D: It was awful good. My mother and father were very good friends of your mother
C: I remember that. Now who were your contemporaries here in Gainesville? Now,
you've come back and you're a businessman in Gainesville. Who were your
D: Finley Cannon was a Beta Beta Phi. I joined Beta Beta Phi at Chapel Hill. Finley
went, I think, to the University of Pennsylvania and was a Beta, and on my summer vacations, I got to know Finley well, and being a Beta and a very good friend, he introduced me to local girls and boys, and to Kingsley Lake, and kind
of got me oriented a little bit to Gainesville folks.
C: He was in the insurance business, was he not?
D: Yes. He was in the insurance business, as was his father. Finley was active in the
community. His father had been President of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, and Finley was, and I was also elected to be the President of the
Chamber of Commerce in my working days.
C: Not only who did you hang around with and who were your friends, but what did
you all do for recreation way back in those dark ages?
D: Well, we were bad, bad boys and girls. We used to drink a little whiskey and go
to dances and go the nightclubs around.
C: What nightclubs were there around?
Interview with Latham Davis, Jr. 4
November 12, 2001
D: Well, I forget the names of them, but one of them was the Nightingale, I think. I
forget which end of town it was on. One of them was out across the street from Santa Fe College, and then there was one out on the Hawthorne Road. There were two or three joints that we used to keep busy. And the Good Lord was nice
enough to see us home.
C: Back then, sports wise, I remember Gainesville had a baseball team.
D: Yes. I didn't ever get too wrapped up with baseball. Jim Butler was the head
knocker in the baseball. My mother and father were baseball nuts. They had a box seat out there and I don't think they missed many nights when the G-Men were playing in town. There was a junk man in town named Sid Grossman. They had a box connecting with my folks, and they used to have a pretty good time just
visiting and going to watch the G-Men.
C: The Gainesville G-Men, that's correct. I noticed not long ago in the paper one of
the old managers, an old catcher, Red Delaney, died.
D: Yes. Red was a pretty good guy. His wife is still living and is actually a Gator
Booster. Gwen's her name. A pretty good gal.
C: A very nice person. When you got back to Gainesville, did you become a Gator?
D: Yes, I did -real fast. I learned that where you're making your living, you'd better
be supportive of the people buying your grits. I got to be a Gator pretty doggone fast. Then, of course, Bob Woodruff came to town in roughly 1949 or 50. He was the athletic director and head football coach at the University. Woodruff and I got to be finin buddies. At that time, the University didn't have the budget or the Gator Boosters, like they do now. I guess the first time Bob and I got acquainted was when he came and bought a car. I remember he was trying to save money for the athletic department and the football team, and he bought all of their helmets.
The football team may have practiced wearing their game helmets. I don't know which one it was, but he brought all their helmets, maybe both, down to have me get my paint department to paint the helmets and bake the paint on. From that time on, Woodruff and I got to be buddies, and still are. Bob died last week in Knoxville. I got to be a real good Gator -maybe too much so -because I got to be such friends with the Woodruffs that I felt like they were family, and when we lost -and we lost fairly regularly in those days -I would suffer on those Saturday
nights with Bob and his family. People would come by to offer condolences.
I must say that through the Athletic Department with all of Woodruff's friends, I met a lot of wonderful people and enjoyed my relationship those ten years that
Woodruff was in town.
Interview with Latham Davis, Jr. 5
November 12, 2001
C: During that time, weren't you very instrumental in forming the Athletic Booster
D: The Gainesville Quarterback Club.
C: How did that get started?
D: Well, my part of the thing was that because of Woodruff I would have done
anything in the world that I could to support him and his program. M.M. Parrish and Earl Powers, and maybe Finley Cannon we got together on M. Parrish's porch one night and decided we ought to get a club together, and that's the way the Gainesville Quarterback Club started. There used to be a guy named Everett Yon, a retired Colonel, who was at that time a Gator booster. Bob Woodruff sort of appointed Everett Yon to be his representative with us in helping us get the
Quarterback Club started.
C: It certainly has been a success through the years.
D: And it has been a lot of fun. I might just say at that time we didn't have any
money in the Quarterback Club. I don't expect we had more than $100 a year, if that much. We couldn't afford to hire anybody to come to be our speaker every Tuesday night, so we would have the coaches out every Tuesday night, and they would not only give the scouting reports but they would give us a little talk and information about the program. We were broke, as far as hiring anybody to come in like they do now to bring in different coaches. Every now and then, maybe once a year, we might splurge and get somebody like Bear Bryant or the Georgia coach, Wally Butts. We might pay their transportation to get them to come down.
Boy, that was a real treat when once a year we got somebody like him here.
C: Didn't the coaches show the game films?
D: That was Dave Fuller's primary job. Dave was in charge of the film department.
Everybody wanted to stay to see the previous week's game, so Dave would show it. But I must say the scouting reports were very good, and maybe a little bit more personal than they are now. As you know, we've got a pretty good radio announcer now named Larry Vettell, who is excellent on his scouting reports. We couldn't afford to hire anybody. If there had been somebody in town like Larry Vettell, we might have been able to buy his supper but we couldn't afford to hire
him every week to come give us a scouting report.
C: Well, times have certainly changed since then.
D: It was a lot of fun, and Everett Yon helped us a lot with programs. Everett knew
everybody in the state of Florida, and we would bring in some people from
around the state, but we didn't pay them to come.
Interview with Latham Davis, Jr. 6
November 12, 2001
C: Now, during your tenure here in Gainesville and I ask everybody this at the end
because I want to find out what they think, and I spring it on them cold in your mind, what has been the biggest change in Gainesville, Florida, since you've been
here. What thing do you think has been the biggest change in Gainesville?
D: Well, of course, the population explosion. At the time we came to Gainesville, I
don't guess that the University had maybe 3,000 or 4,000 students, but now I think they have something like 46,000 out there. I would say that was the biggest change the explosion of the University of Florida, which has made traffic a
problem in Gainesville and a lot of other problems.
C: I think you've hit a nerve there. I don't think there's any question but that is
probably it. That's created more congestion than anything else I can think of
D: As you know, Bob, Gainesville, Florida, is a great, great place to live and to work.
It's been wonderful to have the privilege of living in Gainesville, Florida.
C: I second the motion. Latham, I want to thank you so much for your time today,
and if there is anything else you would like to add, feel free to do so now or whenever we get the transcript. Even then, you are welcome to add anything you
want. Again, I want to thank you very, very much for your time today.
D: I want to thank you and your committee. I think you mentioned Mary Ann Coffin
and one or two other people who give their time, as well as yourself, for getting this in writing. Maybe so, maybe not, but some of the children might want to read
C: I hope they do, and then our time would not be wasted, would it?
D: You never can tell.
C: Latham, thanks a lot.