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A frontier spirit, a volunteer's heart

By MARTY CLEAR, Times Correspondent
Published November 9, 2007


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SUNSET PARK - There's legend among members of the Davis family that their mother, Cody Fowler Davis, was descended from Buffalo Bill Cody.

"We've never been able to prove it, but I believe it," said her son, Tampa lawyer and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis.

Throughout her life, he said, Mrs. Davis displayed a kind of strength and determination that might have come from roots in the American frontier.

In her later years, Mrs. Davis lived in Sunset Park, which is prone to flooding. But she refused to let anyone, even Mother Nature, drive her away from her home.

"One year there was a hurricane, and her house flooded," Davis said.

"There were frogs in her dining room and fish in her living room, but she wouldn't leave. It was her homestead, and she wasn't going to give it up. My brother had to go get her out by boat. And then she went right back."

Mrs. Davis died Oct. 30 after an extended illness. She was 76.

She was born, and lived most of her life, on Davis Islands. Her grandmother was Maude Stewart Fowler, who was the developer of Temple Terrace, and after whom Fowler Avenue is named.

Her father, Cody Fowler, was a prominent Tampa attorney, the founder of the Fowler White law firm and president of the American Bar Association.

She was part of one of Tampa's most prestigious families. Still, her early life was far from easy. She was stricken with polio as a child and barely survived.

"I think because of that my mother always had a heart for people who were ill or weak or injured," her son said.

She was known for tireless volunteer work and instilled that passion for community service in her three children. Her son Cody Davis is a Tampa attorney; her daughter Kimberly Davis Reyher works in the marine fisheries program of the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Davis was divorced when all her children were still young.She supported them by working as a real estate agent.

"We like to think she did a pretty good job raising her children," her daughter Kimberly Davis Reyher said.

It wasn't just her own experience with polio that made her empathize with people with illnesses. Her son Cody had cancer when he was a teenager. That led Mrs. Davis to volunteer as a board member for the Children's Cancer Center.

For nearly a half century, she also was devoted to Tampa General Hospital, where she volunteered in the emergency room.

She also was a member of the Junior League of Tampa, which named her the 2002 Sustainer of the Year and a court member of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

"She loved people, and she loved building relationships," her daughter said.

In her last months, she was actively involved in planning her daughter's wedding and was looking forward to attending. But her health took a downward turn shortly before the ceremony, and she was unable to go.

It no doubt broke her heart that she couldn't be there, Jim Davis said, but she never let her children know.

"She asked me if it was a nice wedding," he said. "I told her it was, and she said, 'Then that's all that matters.'"

Besides her children, Mrs. Davis is survived by a sister and six grandchildren.

[Last modified November 8, 2007, 07:18:16]


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