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Reflections on an industry icon

by Steven Feldman

I had a strange dream the other night. I was attending Chris Davis’ funeral and there I was, paying my last respects. I thought I saw a slight twitch. Then his eyes opened and he started talking. The next thing I knew, he was holding court like only Chris could do and life was good.

I was so elated, I immediately called FCNews president and CEO Mike Blick and in his prototypical calm and collective manner, he simply uttered the word, “Unbelievable.” I was running around telling anyone within earshot this great news.

And then I woke up.

That’s when reality set in for me. It had been a week since my friend, Sam O’Krent, had told me the devastating news about Chris at the Abbey convention in Dallas. Shock trumped every other emotion. But now here I was, staring into the pitch blackness of the night, immersed in my solitude, me and my thoughts, overcome with despair.

For the first time I could reflect on what was a 17-year relationship. We did not get off to the greatest start. Back in 1996, I had asked permission to equip certain dealers’ Surfaces booths with balloons bearing our logo to designate their participation in a best product contest. What I neglected to tell him was the balloons would be filled with helium, knowing full well at least half would wind up kissing the ceiling of the Sands Convention Center by show’s end. (How’s that for marketing?)

Chris was not happy. He made sure I knew how much it cost to have the unionized workers remove those balloons from the rafters. But he was professional. I know it has become cliché, but Chris was the consummate professional. He always kept his composure.

As I continued staring into the darkness, I remembered the many dinners, the many conversations we would have throughout the years. We talked about our lives, the industry, the people. He loved all three. He may not have been the greatest elicitor of emotion, but he could not conceal his excitement when he was about to jump on a plane to visit one of his daughters or spend a weekend at BMW school. But deep down inside, he was just as excited to attend a Floor Covering Industry Foundation meeting, Award of Excellence dinner, Surfaces, CFI convention or any industry event where he could spend time with people; it was just a different type of excitement.

I looked at the clock. It was 3:15 a.m. Each reflection that entered my mind was pushing me farther and farther from REM. I was deliberating whether anyone had as much an impact on this industry as Chris during the past 17-plus years. I couldn’t think of one. What I find so refreshing was that Chris had an uncanny way of making each success about the accomplishment and not about him. He was the ringleader, yet his favorite seat was the back. In many ways, he was larger than life but with an ego a fraction of the size. That is his legacy.

I wondered if another Chris Davis will ever walk down this industry’s paths. He was certainly a friend and partner to this publication. When others in the industry go out of their way to straddle the fence and avoid any semblance of favoritism at all costs, Chris was a maverick. When FCNews approached him about an exclusive anniversary issue commemorating the WFCA’s 50 years, Chris not only endorsed the concept, but facilitated it. I always like to believe we do a good job for our readers, but having Chris’ endorsement truly validated my beliefs.

Many years from now, the WFCA will remain endowed thanks to its $40 million sale of Surfaces, supporting retailers in various ways like no organization will and the FCIF will spend all its money on those in need as opposed to a portion on administrative costs. A new generation may never know the man who made it all possible. And that’s just the way Chris would want it.