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Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Ralph Davis Stands Out at Brightmore of Wilmington

December 18, 2023

Ralph Davis has lived in North Carolina most of his life. He grew up in Asheville when it was just a small mountain town, spending Sundays during high school hiking in the mountains. “I remember in those days, if we had ve or six on the Sunday hike, we were lucky. Now the Carolina Mountain Club takes a bus load of hikers to the mountains. I am fortunate I grew up in mountains before things got so crowded,” he reminisces. A lot of things have also changed in public education where Davis enjoyed an award-winning 30-year career and was honored as PTA District Principal of the Year in 1984. “What I know and what I believe about children is a result of all the schools I was assigned to over those 30 years,” he says.

Always interested in teaching, Davis returned to Asheville to teach physical science at an all-boys private school a er four years of undergraduate study in philosophy at Conception Abbey College in Missouri. “ ose four years at the Benedictine monastery were some of the most enjoyable years of my life,” he says. Davis obtained his master’s degree at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

During his three decades as an educator, Davis touched the lives of many children throughout the Wilmington community, including special education students. He taught ninth grade science at Chestnut Street School and then became assistant principal before heading to Wrightsville Beach Elementary as the principal in 1970. Ralph Davis still proudly wears his well-preserved Wrightsville Beach Elementary Sea Imps jacket from the ‘70s that he wore as the school principal.

“Wrightsville Beach was a small school with strong parental support. It was a good place to learn how to be a principal,” he says. “I was an advocate of learning by doing, not by just listening. We were one of the first elementary schools in the county to move from ‘sit and get’ to active learning.” Davis was a principal who went beyond the books. “ The Halloween celebration was a really important part of Wrightsville Beach Elementary. We had the best horror rooms and spook house in the county,” he says.

Jamie Shearer, media and communications specialist at Liberty Senior Living, and her best friend Jan Brewington attended third grade together at Wrightsville Beach Elementary when Davis was the principal. “Mr. Davis was a very groovy guy. He had aviator glasses and his hair was considered longer, over his ears. Our third grade class performed “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night at our school pageant. That’s just how groovy our school was,” Brewington recalls.

At College Park Elementary, Davis helped introduce a state-wide teacher evaluation program. “College Park had an excellent PTA,” he recalls. But it’s the pie throwing assembly that is legendary. As a reward for children reading one million pages in six weeks, ve students were selected to throw a pie in Davis’s face.

Davis’s teaching career culminated back at Chestnut Street School, renamed Annie H. Snipes Academy of Arts & Design, in 1996. He grew his hair longer and wore a ponytail. “I was never admonished for it, but there was a lot of kidding. When my retirement was announced in the newspaper, the story referred to ‘the long-haired principal at Snipe School.’ at was the only public mention ever made about my hair.”

After retirement, Davis moved to Pittsboro, North Carolina where he worked on an organic farm and taught preschoolers at a local Baptist church. “ Those 16 years were the centerpiece of my career,” he says.

Davis quickly interjects that there is more to him than being a teacher, a school principal and an advocate of children’s education. Davis was a long distance runner, tackling marathons and 10K races. On September 9, 1979 he participated in the very rst triathlon on the east coast. “ e triathlon is the ultimate accomplishment of my non-school career,” he says. Davis was recently interviewed for a documentary lm about the triathlon to be released in the next couple of years.

After his wife passed in 2022, Davis moved to Brightmore of Wilmington Senior Independent Living. Just about everyone already knows his name and recognizes his distinctive three-wheel bike. Annually for the past four years, Davis has biked 500 miles, this year topping o at 400 due to the limiting summer temperatures. “I will keep riding as long as I can get on my bike,” he says. When he’s not biking, he is participating in one of the many exercise classes at Brightmore.

Davis just might be the Brightmore hippie, the only long-haired, bearded man in the community. On his very first morning at Brightmore, a woman suggested he must have been an artist. “She told me that she was glad to have artistic talent moving to Brightmore.”

Davis took the opportunity to correct stereotypes about long hair at a monthly party where new residents are introduced. “I never went to Woodstock. I never played in a band. I was never an artist or singer. I was just a simple elementary school principal for 30 years and a preschool teacher for 16,” he told everyone. “ That got a big chuckle.”

When asked about his long hair, Davis simply says, “My wife was a rock and roller. She liked long hair. But nowadays, I think it did it for bragging rights. My hair is my persona,” Clear the streets! Ralph Davis regularly rides his three-wheel bike around town.

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Wilmington, NC 28403


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