Vail pioneer dead at 80 |

Vail pioneer dead at 80

Marka Moser

Services have been set for 11 a.m. Nov. 25 at the Vail Interfaith Chapel, with Rev. Brooks Keith officiating.

Blessed with the gift of gab and a wonderful sense of humor, he counted people of all ages among his good friends. His son Paul likens his father to the “Pied Piper” because everywhere he went he attracted people to him.

An active man, Ralph Davis taught skiing for Vail Resorts until just two years ago. While in the hospital, he quipped that someone might let Vail Resorts know he might be a little late obtaining his pass this season.

He was a great dancer, an avid golfer and tennis player, having at one time pulled together a tennis team he dubbed “The Davis Cups.”

He was thrilled to be the focus of attention at a surprise family gathering this summer celebrating his 80th birthday, orchestrated by his daughter, Nancy, who describes her father as “a valuable mentor” and “father-figure to so many people in the valley.” He was her favorite tennis partner, she says, and gamely played tennis with her until seven weeks ago, even though he was burdened with an oxygen tank strapped to his back.

Nancy remembers her father’s favorite hat, one he wore when he was running the farms in Missouri. He continued to wear his “rode hard and hung up wet” hat until he went into the hospital several weeks ago, she says. It was similar to the one worn by his close friend George Webster until his death, a symbol of their grounding and deep roots.

A voracious reader, Ralph Davis usually was engaged in two or three books simultaneously, ranging in subject from politics and economics to nature and history. He enjoyed lively discussions with friends and family about a

variety of subjects. A private pilot, he imparted his own love of flying onto his sons and grandsons.

“Ralph was a wonderful friend, as good a friend as you could ever have,” says Art Kelton, who had known him for 30 years and served with him on the board of the Vail Valley Medical Foundation. “He was a very active citizen of the valley, a real positive force, especially in his position as member and president of the Vail Valley Medical Foundation Board. Ralph was very instrumental in saving the hospital from financial crisis in 1980.”

Ralph Davis also helped obtain the multi-million dollar grant from Harold and Mary Louise Shaw to build a cancer center in Edwards. Davis also served as a member of the Action Vail committee.

Good friend Connie Knight describes Ralph Davis as a man who cared deeply about people and the community.

“No matter how much pain or how tired he was, he was always a gentleman,” Knight says. “His opinion was to be respected, even if I didn’t always agree with him. Ralph was a strong role model and mentor, and will definitely leave a void within the community.”

Brian Hauff remembers his favorite doubles tennis partner and good friend as a man who always had a smile on his face, never spoke an unkind word and had become the Homestead Club staff’s favorite member.

“Ralph was the most pleasant person, and even though there was a 30-year age difference, we were on the same page,” says Hauff, who also enjoyed Davis’s sense of humor. “One day Ralph showed up at Men’s Day and had forgotten his tennis pants. He searched through the lost and found and pulled out a pair of women’s bright green running shorts to wear during his matches.

“He was totally unique,” Hauff adds. “When he played particularly well, we would accuse him of having some suspect chemical, in addition to oxygen in his tank. Even though he endured several medical difficulties, he was always more concerned with others. Everybody at the club loved the guy.”

Davis was a man more concerned about inner qualities than how a person dressed. That’s why his late wife, Mary, used to tell him he often looked like “an unmade bed.”

Born in Pittsburgh on July 3, 1922, he attended Princeton University. He earned an engineering degree from Cornell University while also attending Officer Candidate School and then serving with the U.S. Navy. He met Mary Skelding while attending Cornell, and they were married in 1945.

The Davis family moved to Boonville, Mo., where Ralph raised cattle for 30 years. It was after attending the National Western Stock Show in Denver in 1965 and Ralph and Mary Davis were headed to Aspen that they heard about the new ski area called “Vail.” They stopped to check it out as a possible investment and fell in love with Vail, bringing their children back to ski that spring and buying a condominium at All Seasons.

In 1973, they moved into a home on the Vail Golf Course, where Ralph remained until a couple of years ago, when he moved to Homestead to be closer to Nancy and her family. He especially enjoyed time spent with his grandchildren, teaching them the finer aspects of hunting and fishing, and even tutoring them in driving a car.

He is survived by: sons, Ralph III and his wife, Beth, and their son, Tad, of Woodinville, Wash.; and Paul, his wife, Debby, and their children Jennifer and Andrew of Boonville, Mo.; and daughter Nancy Davis Kerby, her husband, Steve, of Homestead and their two sons, Christopher who attends the University of Colorado and Jonathan, a sophomore at Battle Mountain High School; and several nieces and nephews.

He is preceded in death by his wife, Mary, who died in 1995, and a son, Jonathan Davis who died in 1958.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in memory of Ralph E. Davis, Jr. to Mountain Hospice, attention Lynn Hoehn, or the Harold W. and Mary Louise Shaw Regional Cancer Center, c/o Vail Valley Medical Center,

P.O. Box 40,000, Vail, CO, 81658.

Support Local Journalism