Calvin Davis, Olympian, Dorchester High grad, 51
Memorial draws friends, teammates, elected officials
Boston has paid its last respects to Calvin Davis, one of the finest athletes the state has produced, who left this world at the comparatively young age of 51. He leaves a legacy that brings pride and distinction to his family and friends.
About 100 people paid tribute to Davis at a memorial service Sept. 21 in the Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center, a fitting venue for the Olympic medalist in the hurdles. Family members, former Dorchester High teammates, friends and elected officials, including Mayor Michelle Wu, came to the memorial, which the city worked with the family to coordinate.
Davis, born in Eutaw, Alabama, died May 1 in Springdale, Arkansas, the state where he went to college and lived. No cause was disclosed.
“I have cried every day since his passing. The pain just will not go away,” his mother, Helen Davis, said in an interview. “I think of him as a child, a jokester who loved to make me and his family laugh a lot. He was a funny child who never gave me a day of trouble. He was a good son.”
She said Calvin told her as a youngster, “One day, I want to run in the Olympics.”
By way of a circuitous journey, he would achieve that goal. Following a spectacular high school career that included scoring the game-winning touchdown in Dorchester High’s Super Bowl victory over Bristol-Plymouth in 1989, Calvin left the state, leaving lifelong memories for his mom, family and fans.
“I remember that Super Bowl game and that moment that he scored the game-winning touchdown like it was yesterday,” Helen Davis said.
Teammate Devon McGregor remembers Davis as a man who deeply cared for his family, friends and community.
McGregor, a 26-year employee of Verizon, fondly reflects on meeting Davis in high school on the first day of track and field practice at Dorchester High (known today as Tech Boston).
“We formed a friendship that day that lasted to the day he died,” McGregor said. “The things that stay in my mind are the days we spent in and out of high school. I was a middle-distance runner on the same relay team as Calvin. We also played on the Super Bowl winning team together. My cherished thought of Calvin Davis was that he did not have a mean streak — even in a violent sport like football.”
But Davis’ spotlight sport was track. His records at Dorchester that still stand include the 200 (21.6 seconds), 300-yard run (31.2), and 400-meter (47.7). After getting a raw deal from Auburn University, where a promised track scholarship was not delivered, Davis wound up at Wallace State University in Alabama for two years before receiving a four-year scholarship to the University of Arkansas.
There, he blossomed into a world-class performer. He won the NCAA indoor 400-meter title in 1993 and 1994 before switching to hurdles.
“My son started out as a flat 400-meter sprinter. He ran against the great Michael Johnson (Olympic gold medalist in the 200- and 400-meter sprints in 1996) and realized that he would do better running hurdles,” his mother said.
Davis would win a bronze medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a performance that followed a gold medal as part of the 4×400-meter relay team at the 1995 World Indoor Championships in Barcelona, Spain.
Regardless of his international success, Davis always remembered his roots.
“He always came back to the neighborhood to visit his family but never forgot to take time to visit his friends — despite how tough and dangerous things got in these streets,” McGregor said. “I still visit his mother and family out of my respect for our friendship.”
Dion Irish, chief of operations for the City of Boston and a friend from Davis’ high school days, said: “Calvin was one of the most humble people I knew, and loved to run. There were a lot of competitive people at Dorchester High, and we would race each other in the hallway after school. There was a track above the basketball court, but no straightaways. The hall was the only space we could find.”
At Dorchester’s newly renovated Roberts Playground, however, there is a track space with four lanes — and a plan to name it after Davis.
“We thought that we could dedicate that in Calvin’s name,” Irish said, “because I could just see him on that track if it existed when we were in high school.” He also mentioned that a process is in place to resurface the track and “get community support to install a memorial to him.”