Homegoing: Keith Everett Davis
Life & Legacy
A life lived, loved, and now mourned.
Keith Everett Davis was born in New Jersey on August 8, 1951. His parents were Dr. Evelyn Remelle Griffin and Dr. John Davis, who were both very accomplished in their own right. Evelyn was a Juilliard trained pianist and a black female doctor who graduated from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in a time when few black women entered professional circles, and John was a medical doctor as well. Keith's parents were not married, and he and his mother lived under the matriarchal leadership of his grandmother, Plugenia Peters, who he referred to as 'Mother.' Plugenia was a formidable businesswoman, and she founded Griffin-Peters after moving to New York City during the Great Migration as a former sharecropper who started her life picking cotton in South Carolina and never formally attained more than a 6th grade education. Plugenia was so prolific a businesswoman than she was written about in Jet Magazine as a wealthy funeral director, and she was well known for buying her mansion in Yonkers and essentially integrating the Park Hill neighborhood. It is in this context of privilege, high educational and professional standards, racism, and proximity to a history of slavery that Keith was raised.
As a toddler Keith was a spirited child, and he was well known amongst cousins for wearing formal children's clothing to family events and kicking his cousins with tiny wing-tip shoes when they weren't looking. Keith attended the Ethical Culture Schools' Fieldston Lower and the Fieldston School for fourteen years in Riverdale, NY, where he was an excellent three season varsity athlete and a great student. In fact, when his daughter attended Fieldston decades later he still had times on the record board in track and field. He learned to love the outdoors at Camp Treetops, and had many fond memories of fresh lobster rolls in Maine. Indeed, as many of you know - Keith loved to eat, and he learned to love food early on. He also loved animals dearly, and had a multitude of dogs, cats, and even a pet rooster over the course of his life (though the noisy rooster ended up being dinner - much to his chagrin!) His childhood may seem idyllic on paper, but Keith had lots of stories about being bullied by schoolmates, teachers, and neighbors for being black -- trauma that he quietly carried with him into adulthood. The summer after graduating high school in '69 he attended Woodstock, and he loved to talk about seeing Carlos Santana, Joni Mitchell, and the great Jimi Hendrix on stage live and how much love there was at that festival.
He matriculated to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he played college football with the great Bill Belichick (explaining Keith's absolutely nonsensical love of both the NY Giants and NE Patriots!) At Wesleyan he was a history major and very much enjoyed continuing to explore his love of English literature as well. Keith read everything ever written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and remained an avid reader throughout his life -- pouring through many nonfiction books each month, most recently delving into the memoir and biographies of fellow Fieldston alum Gil Scott-Heron. During his college years there was great social and political unrest, and Keith had stories of attending rallies throughout the Northeast both grassroots and sometimes those led by Black Panthers, and he felt the burn of mustard gas thrown at him and his comrades. He was called home to New York for family reasons in his senior year of college, and he finished his bachelor's degree with a year at Sarah Lawrence College as a part of the first co-ed class to graduate the school. As a young man he planned to either be a writer or a lawyer professionally, but instead he answered the call (and his grandmother's mandate) to serve in his family business, and he attended American Academy - McAllister Institute of Funeral Service, graduating with his Master's degree in 1976. Keith's parents both died when he was a younger man; he carried their memory with him and struggled with their loss throughout his life.
Keith joined Griffin-Peters not altogether enthusiastically, but he would be the first to tell you that he definitely learned to appreciate the service the funeral industry provides to families in their bereavement after incredible losses. He learned to love his job, and had immense pride in upholding the standards and legacy of Griffin-Peters and the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of funeral directors that he became apart of. As a funeral director, he met his wife - Valerie, and they developed a great friendship years before they started dating. One day, Valerie dropped off information at the funeral home and left without seeing Keith. He caught a glimpse of this beautiful woman (from behind) and chased after her but never caught up to her, asking people in the office who she was. When he found out later that it was indeed his friend Valerie he called her that same night and the rest, as they say, is history. Valerie eventually started working for the funeral home as an administrative assistant. Keith and Valerie grew together as a team professionally and in love, and in addition to Valerie's daughter from a previous relationship, Tuere Randall, they had a son, Trent, and daughter, Keithara. Keith was immensely proud of his children and the work they pursue. He told anyone who would listen about his kids' accomplishments. For example - on any trip with his daughter if she walked into a random gas station 30 seconds after her father, the attendant would say, "so this is the doctor."
Keith and Valerie built a life together involving a large family built of both blood and chosen relatives. Their children grew up with many aunts, uncles, and cousins, and they often had large family gatherings - often in the yard at their home in Yonkers. In addition to their own children, Keith and Valerie loved and cared for many children over the years, some of whom lived with them for years at a time. Theirs is a legacy of providing for children and setting them up for success - he taught boys to cook for themselves, regularly gave and raised money for college scholarships, and gave internships to many aspiring female funeral directors. Keith often helped struggling families and acquaintances by paying their rent or buying their groceries.
Keith was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in 2018, and he fought hard to keep the cancer at bay as long as he could. His love of life persisted in these later years, and as his body betrayed him his focus became singular in that he wanted to spend as much time as possible with family, and especially with his grandchildren. He has a very special relationship with his first grandchild, Jade, who called him 'pop-pop' and whom he called his 'Jadey-Wadey.' His next grandchild is Dasia, who he loved to watch play sports and beat all the boys in the yard at their own games. Then came Kai, Raiden, and Jaxon, who are all very young and live in California, and it devastated Keith when the time came that plane travel was no longer safe for him to visit 'the boys.' The family will continue to make sure the children grow up knowing their grandpa and knowing how much they were loved by him.
Keith simply ran out of options for his cancer treatment, but he refused to stop living his life until he simply couldn't anymore. When he was first hospitalized we are lucky in that he was lucid enough to receive and reciprocate love with the many visitors who overwhelmed the hospital ICU. Indeed, while still in the hospital he often remarked how the love he felt from those visitors carried him through the ordeal of being hospitalized, and he was so, so grateful for everyone who was able to call, Facetime, and visit him in person. And a special "shout out" to those of you who entertained random phone calls from him late at night during those days. Keith's final wishes were to go home with his family, where he succumbed to his illness in the loving presence of his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Keithara, who both cared for him dotingly in his final weeks.
Keith was preceded in death by his grandparents, Olen Griffin and Plugenia Peters - both of whom lived well into their 90s, a step-grandfather John R. Peters, his parents, Evelyn Griffin and John Davis, an older sister who died in childhood before he met her, June, his closest cousin Diana Haridat, who he grew up with almost as siblings - and whose daughter, Malla, has a special place in his heart, and his surrogate son, Felix Moultrie. He is succeeded by his wife, Valerie, his children, Tuere, Trent, and Keithara, daughter-in-law Cathy, and his grandchildren, Jade (and her mother Sonyah), Dasia, Paige, Kai, Raiden, and Jaxon.
Family members from all sides of his family and from many different states across the country join together to celebrate his life - those descended from the Fosters, Cokers, Griffiths (Griffins), Weldons, and Martins, to name a few. In addition, his chosen family are too numerous to name without risking missing and offending anyone. He will also be missed by his friends from Fieldston, Wesleyan, his Abyssinian Baptist Church family, and the family of funeral directors that he worked alongside over many decades in the industry. He was a loyal member of Prince Hall Masons, Boyer Lodge #1, and Medina Temple. He was a charming man who could make friends with anyone he met, and he had many very close friends who will remain near and dear to his family. Special thank you's and acknowledgements to Brenda Young, Damien Hall, Sonyah and the Bramble family, Devin White, Junior and Leon Lawton, and Keith's neighbors Debbie, Nigel, and Carol, all of whom provided care for him and his family in his last days at home.
Our family is forever blessed to have called Keith theirs for the time that we had him, and we are grateful that his pain and illness are removed from him in his transition to everlasting life.
I'll be loving you, always.
-Valerie, Tuere, Trent, and Keithara