U-B's Don Davis angles for new role in retirement

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WALLA WALLA - Beginning today, the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin will never be the same.

Unless, that is, Don Davis walks back into the building and says April Fools.

Wednesday, according to the announced plan, was Don's last day on the job as a U-B sports writer and the newspaper's venerable outdoors writer. At age 71, he has decided to head off into retirement.

More time to spend with a rod and reel in hand, I suspect. Hours on end to tramp the lowlands and mountain sides, hither and yon, with his trusted companion, Nora the Schnauzer, by his side.

I'd like to say that every trout in every lake in the Greater Columbia Basin is suddenly on the endangered species list. That every deer and every pheasant in Blue Mountain Country has heard the news and is headed for parts unknown.

But no. More likely, they're primping for photo ops.

Don loves the outdoors. But he'll never be remembered as the Great White Hunter.

Rather, his idea of the perfect outdoor outing culminates with a camera full of images of the day's encounters, not a full stringer of fish or a well-stocked larder.

If you've read otherwise in any of his outdoors yarns, take it with a grain of salt. Don's been known to stretch the truth.

Don went to work for the U-B in 1979 as a part time sports writer, and six years later he took a full time position. But my relationship with him goes back to the early 1970s when he taught English and history at Mac-Hi and, for a few years, coached the Pioneers' tennis teams.

One of Don's responsibilities as tennis coach was to phone the results into the U-B. And every once in a while he would. More often, I'd have to track him down.

"We don't play tennis to get our names in the paper," he explained at the time.

It wasn't until after he got on the other end of the telephone line that Don came to appreciate reliable news sources.

Don filled many roles during his long tenure as a U-B sports writer. But his primary beat nearly from the outset was covering Wa-Hi athletic events.

I'm confident Blue Devils coaches are going to miss the honest yet caring attention he provided their teams and athletes over the years.

He will also be missed as a co-worker, not only in the sports department but throughout the newsroom and the plant in general. And he leaves behind a rich catalogue of amusing stories, usually with himself as the central figure.

Some of them can even be retold in polite company.

There's the famous one about the time he was fly fishing on Mill Creek and managed on one cast to put a fish hook through his ear. Or any of the many times he locked himself out of his car and had to call his wife Darlene to come and rescue him.

One of my favorites was a Sunday outing many years ago in which we made a trip to Seattle to cover a Seahawks game in the Kingdome. I was the reporter and Don was the photographer, except that he forgot his camera.

So we stopped at a KMart in Bellevue where Don purchased a camera, lens and film, which he cleverly returned later that day sans film.

The game was special in that it was the final of Franco Harris' illustrious career. And afterwards, a hoard of photographers, Don included, swarmed the former Steelers star on the Kingdome turf.

As I watched this mass of humanity from the sidelines, I noticed a camera lens bouncing away from the pile. And I thought to myself, "somebody's missing a great photograph."

And just about then, Don emerged from the pile, crawling on hands and knees in hot pursuit of the lens.

Then there's the time Wa-Hi was scheduled to play a football playoff game at Shadle Park High in Spokane and Don inserted directions to the stadium at the end of his preview story. But he confused his right with his military right, and half of Wa-Hi's fans wound up in Post Falls, Idaho.

Directions have never been Don's strong suit. And thus evolved a familiar U-B sports department battle cry: "Just go to Cheney and turn left."

Those were the directions Don allowed himself as he prepared to cover a game somewhere up north many years back. And they must have worked, because that's been his standard answer ever since when asked if he knew how to get some place.

Don was in Tacoma a few years ago to cover something or other in the Tacoma Dome, and he managed to get lost.

As he wound his way through dark streets searching for a familiar landmark, he came upon Cheney Stadium, the home of Tacoma's Class AAA pro baseball team. Instinctively he turned left, and before he knew it he was at the Tacoma Dome.

This story in many ways underscores Don's career as a U-B sports writer.

Unorthodox? Yes. But he always got the job done.

He was always the first one in the office, rarely took sick leave and never missed an assignment.

During all of his years as the outdoors writer, there has only been one week in which his column did not appear in the U-B. The column in Wednesday's Diversions Section was No. 1,382.

Union-Bulletin readers will be glad to know that Don's column will continue to appear weekly.

As for me, Don was my first hire after becoming the U-B's sports editor in 1983. I'm gratified after all these years to know that it was a very good hire.

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