I first met Dr. John Davis in 2001 when I was assigned to write a feature story about him and his siblings after they traveled across Nebraska on a tour that had been on their family’s bucket list for many years. John and his brother, Herb, wanted to take their sister, Petie, a long-time Boston resident, back to their family ranch in Cody, Nebraska, while also touring the rest of the Sand Hills. As I profiled John and his siblings, I soon learned he was the author of Too Tough to Die, a fictional account of life in a small town in the Nebraska Sand Hills, inspired by the town of Cody. John and I had a love of writing in common—and as it turned out, we were more alike than not in many more ways.
After the article was published in the Omaha newspaper, John offered to take me to lunch to thank me. I was thrilled to meet him in person. By the time our paths crossed, he was in his late seventies and I was in my late thirties. As we conversed over lunch, I learned that John graduated from Yale, served in the Navy as a captain of a ship during World War II, practiced general surgery for years with his father, and owned a golf course/tennis center. He was madly in love with his wife of fifty-plus years, and adored his children and grandchildren. He was an avid horseman, golfer, tennis player, painter, and hunter. But more than that, John was an adventurer. We were kindred spirits.
As our friendship developed, John and I stayed in contact through emails, a letter every year on my birthday, and an annual lunch. When his brother (and best friend) passed away, John told me how much he missed him. When his beloved wife died, he grieved once again. After he eventually found love with another wonderful woman, he proudly introduced her to me. As we grew to become close friends, we exchanged lively stories of our adventures. I told him of the time I backpacked down the side of a mountain in a blizzard, helped rescue a man who collapsed on a Minnesota trail, and bravely confronted my fears of grizzly bears while hiking in Montana. As he aged, he continued to ride horses, hunt, and golf. He often delighted in proudly announcing, “I’m the oldest person on the golf course!” In Nebraska, John looked forward to hunting season as much as he did when he was a boy. While wintering at his home in California, John loved four-wheeling in his Hummer. One day a few years ago, I received a letter from John confessing a terrible mistake. He and three friends had gone four-wheeling in his Hummer in the desert. After a wrong turn led John, who was by now in his early 90s, to realize they were lost, he and his friends huddled together on the cold desert floor all night in an effort to keep warm. When the sun rose, a rescue helicopter arrived to save the group. Finally after much persuasion, he reluctantly agreed to trade in the Hummer for a more practical mode of transportation. Still, he golfed and joyfully reminisced about his past adventures whenever he had the chance.
This year, I didn’t receive a letter on my birthday. I began having a nagging feeling that something was wrong. Just a few days after Thanksgiving, I learned John had died at the age of ninety-six. He left behind his sister, Petie, his second wife, Marlene, seven grandchildren, fourteen great-grandchildren, and of course, many friends just like me.
John was many things: a loyal friend; a talented horseman, hunter, and writer; a loving husband, father, and grandfather; and the kind of surgeon who, when holding the scalpel, treated every one of his patients like he would a member of his own family. But John was also an adventurer who lived life. He welcomed opportunities to meet new people, step outside his comfort zone, and grow personally—even well into his nineties.
I know Dr. John Davis would be thrilled that I am profiling him once again. But he would be even more thrilled if he knew this profile had somehow encouraged each one of you to pursue adventure, to live life with gusto, and to love each other like there is no tomorrow.
As you look forward into a new year, take John’s enthusiasm for life and pass it on to everyone you come in contact with on a daily basis as well as your children, family, and friends. Age well. Embrace adventure. Pursue your dreams. Climb a mountain. Go four-wheeling. Golf until they have to carry you off the course. Be a good person. Because I promise that when the end comes, none of us will ever regret a life well lived.
Vicky DeCoster is a Certified Life Coach who specializes in helping her clients move past obstacles, create a plan for happiness, and cross the bridge of transition to find a new and fulfilling direction in life. To read more about her and her practice, visit her at crossthebridgecoaching.com.