When Bob Davis graduated in 1951 at the age of 16 as a valedictorian at Ss. Peter and Paul High School, after working at the Cooper County Record with local journalist, historian and author EJ Melton, he was not yet aware of his career goal, but he knew it would be something involving the use of words. He was also unaware of his family ancestors, including the 16th century theologian and author William Whitaker, master of St. John’s College of Divinity, University of Cambridge, England, and the son of William Alexander, a life missionary. in the colony of Jamestown, America and publisher in England. cultural sermons to his white worshipers and to the natives he converted.
Bobby Davis grew up on a 24 acre “place” within the city limits of Boonville with parents MC and Liz Davis, siblings Johnny and Mary Beth, and numerous chickens, cows and pigs, where he learned the politics, culture and responsibilities of both. city and country life. He played all sports, but had a special interest in baseball.
After four years at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Bob briefly worked as a reporter for a small Kansas newspaper. Finding the routine unsatisfactory, he returned to school and obtained an MA and PhD in English Literature at the University of Kansas and the University of Wisconsin. The field of academics and scholarly writing has proven to be more acceptable.
A subsequent academic career included Loyola University, Chicago, University of California, Davis, and University of Oklahoma, Norman. At OU, he has held numerous academic and administrative positions in the English department, most notably as Director of the Graduate Program. For more than 50 years Bob has received numerous scholarships and awards for teaching, research and travel, taught at five American universities, two Canadian and two Hungarian, and lectured in over a dozen countries. .
His academic and editorial field was modern English and American literature and creative writing, focusing on literary criticism and scholarship, Western American literature, and Central European literature and culture. He published over 20 books and numerous scientific papers between 1966 and 2014, and was one of the foremost authorities on the life and literature of the famous modern English satirist Evelyn Waugh.
While Bob’s focus was primarily scholarly writing, of little interest to the general public, he wrote two volumes of poetry and several non-fiction books related to his life experiences. His published books included creative non-fiction Mid-Lands: A Family Album, The Ornamental Hermit: People and Places of the New West, and Midlife Mojo: A Guide for the Newly Single Male; cultural study Literature of post-communist Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania; a collection of personal essays Born-Again Skeptic & Other Valedictions; and a collection of poems Live White Male.
Mid-Lands is both a memoir and a social commentary, describing growing up as a Catholic in Boonville and being a youth in a small white town in post-war America. Boonville is a city he appreciates and is proud to be. Its stories are illustrated with names and places familiar to mid-century Boonville residents.
The house was both a place and a concept. The century-old house and property on Eleventh Street, which is still occupied by the family today, fulfilled his parents’ demands: an area for his father to be a small farmer, and a cobbled street that led his mother to his work downtown. His self-taught, intellectually and politically active grandfather, Robert Murray, lived nearby. He uses both the place of origin and the city to explore the relationships between family and others, adults and children, Protestants and Catholics, work and play, and other dichotomies.
School and baseball were important aspects of his youth. Priests and nuns were responsible for both the education and spiritual well-being of the students, and Bob describes the successes and failures in both learning paths and in his young baseball career.
As a child his desire was to play organized baseball and he played briefly for the Boonville American Legion team, but he found that his physical and social skills were best applied in an outlaw ball club. The Boonville Red Sox were known by the reputation of local barbershops as the “Herb Klusemeyer alley rats”. The challenge of black and white relationships was learned when he became an early and enthusiastic Jackie Robinson fan, later to the dismay of his American Legion teammates. But the Alley Rats included a Catholic and two blacks, the first integrated team in central Missouri.
Bob closes the book with further discussion of his relationship with his father and heads to Boonville to visit him. He realizes that after his father’s death, he might continue to “come home”, but never stay. And years later, he admitted that the book was actually about his father.
After more than 30 years at OU, Bob retired as Professor Emeritus of English and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he continued to work as a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.
A separate obituary is published in this issue of the Boonville Daily News.