Henry Fulton Davis III, formerly of Brooklin Maine, died peacefully on February 15 on Bainbridge Island.For the past several years he had been in assisted living under the care of daughter Alexa Rosenthal together with Alexa’s husband Michael. They supported Henry with love and courage as he struggled against Parkinson’s disease.
Henry was born in Boston on September 15, 1928, to Henry F Davis II and Mary Woods Davis both from western Pennsylvania. He lived most of his life in the Boston area, retiring to Brooklin in the early 2000s and moving to Bainbridge Island in 2015. Henry’s love of gadgets emerged early, as did his love of trees. Thanks to an uncle, Henry in his teens learned to sail. He soon dreamt of sailing around the world. But trees came first along with marriage to his wife of 55 years, Fiona Rice Davis.
Henry graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst trained as an arborist. He spent two years in the army as a medic during the Korean War. In the mid-1950s, after years of low pay and long hours, he bought out his boss and turned a small tree-care outfit, later known as Lowden Tree Specialists, into an arboricultural powerhouse in the Boston area. In the early 1960s, he contributed to the DDT debate and in the 1970s, along with a colleague, devised a treatment regimen for Dutch Elm Disease. The treatment mixed the fungicide mycostatin with a powerful solvent, allowing for a quick uptake into the elm’s crown.
For 45 years, Henry oversaw care of the Elm trees on the Boston Common and Public Gardens. Upon Henry’s retirement, Mayor Thomas Menino declared April 26, 2013 “Henry Davis Day” in the city of Boston out of gratitude for his service. Henry always liked voicing for his children the Latin name for this or that exotic tree. Proper pruning methods were a particular concern. The University of Massachusetts invited him to lecture on the subject in the early 2000s.
Meanwhile the ocean called. Starting in the early 1960s he took his family on ever more ambitious and sometimes unsettling sailing voyages. Henry’s children remember a wrong turn along the Intracoastal Waterway putting his family in a North Carolina swamp for the night. They remember the stormy night he and Fiona navigated the inlet at Ocean City, Maryland, in their 32-foot ketch the Nabob. With the Nabob beached on a far-flung island, they remember Henry commandeering a bulldozer to haul heavy welding equipment needed to fix the boat’s prop. Appearing out of nowhere, he dropped down over a line of sand dunes in the bulldozer to the beach, equipment loaded.
His sailing ventures expanded, as did the boat, now a 65’ wooden ketch, with trips across the Atlantic, up the Seine, and down the coast of Africa that included an extended journey up the River Gambia. His first choice for a river was the Yangtze. The Chinese government politely ended that prospect. In the 1980s, Henry sailed with family and friends across the Pacific to Japan, China, and New Guinea. In the 1990s things settled a bit with more time in Brooklin, Henry had many passions: trees, machines, sailing, music, history, family. Whether it be a sprawling electric train layout, a radio tower that the authorities insisted endangered planes, a mystifying crane design for putting in floats, or happily mending a broken steering cable while tossed about in an Atlantic storm: his hands-on brilliance with gadgets both amazed and irked. He spent many hours reading history and speculating about its inner workings, its direction. He loved classical music to a fault (too loud!). He volunteered for many years with the Norfolk Fellowship program, counseling inmates at the Norfolk Prison in Massachusetts. “Fellowship” is the missing word here. Love for his family knew few bounds and warmed his offspring in the most wonderful way. His was a potent and complex soul.
Henry was predeceased by his wife Fiona and infant daughter, Sheila Victoria Davis. He was also predeceased by his sister Rebecca Flather and brother William Woods Davis. Henry will be missed by friends and family including his three children: Hank Davis (Tracy Spencer) of Brooklin, ME; Tony Davis (Robin) of Orleans, MA; Alexa Davis Rosenthal (Michael) of Bainbridge Island, WA. His grandchildren will feel his loss in the deepest way: Julian Davis, Vesta Davis, Brooke Davis Capuano, Skye Davis, and Luc, Jesse, and Wyatt Rosenthal. Henry’s eight-month old great granddaughter, Cora Capuano, by his side when Henry took his last breath, will miss him in ways only she knows.
Henry once remarked “I don’t need new friends at this point in my life…” but was surprised and pleased to develop more than a few deep and meaningful friendships at Madrona House. His family will never forget the six years of unwavering love and support that the caregivers at the Madrona House on Bainbridge Island provided Henry. The caregiving profession goes undervalued. It should not. Henry, we know, would agree.
There has been a scholarship fund set up to honor Henry’s memory and to help continue the art and science of arboriculture and heritage tree preservation.
Please send donations in Henry’s name to:
The Henry Davis Scholarship
c/o Scott McPhee
Harrison McPhee, Inc.
14 Milliston Road, Suite 202
Millis, MA 02054
For more information regarding the scholarship or an application, please visit www.HarrisonMcPhee.com
There will be a celebration of life in Westwood MA, for both Henry and Fiona, on September 24th.