Bob Davis was watching parents and children walking from the parking lot, past the windows of the school office, towards the cafeteria. “I told them I didn’t want anything,” said Davis, who is retiring after 14 years as principal of Belle View Elementary School. Apparently no one listened. On Monday, May 22, parents, staff and students gathered in the school cafeteria to give honor Davis, thank him, and say goodbye.
Besides members of the school community, there were two surprise guests, Davis’s cousin, Bill Moore, and a close friend and colleague in Fairfax for the last 33 years, Saunie Wolstenholme.
“Bob was the brother I never had,” Wolstenholme told the crowd of children sitting on the floor and the parents and teachers who stood behind them. “I always knew I could rely on you. You epitomize, in my opinion, words like ‘classy’ and ‘kind-hearted.’”
Daria Groover, who was an assistant principal under Davis for three years, followed Wolstenholme and described Davis’s strengths as a principal. She told the crowd that Davis had made her a better writer through his emphasis on proof-reading and spell-check. But she also recalled one memorable breakdown in proof-reading thoroughness, a mass email meant to have the word “public” in its subject.
As an example of Davis’s skill at delegating authority to his staff, Groover cited the day they received a call from a teacher saying one of the students was running in the hallway, naked. She said the most unexpected place she had ever met Davis was in a Myrtle Beach Walmart. He was spending “quality time” with his mother and sister.
“Family,” said former PTA president Andi DeRose when asked about Davis’s legacy. “He’s made it a family. He’s just really good at being a father figure.” At Davis’s party, this community bond was particularly apparent. People of all ages filled the cafeteria, snacking from tables spread with seafood and dessert from the Village Wharf restaurant. Babies scooted across the floor while parents and teachers chatted and laughed.
“It’s really a delightful community school,” said resource teacher Mary Tkacik, “Even though it has a diverse population, it has a lot of continuity … A lot of my colleagues here were neighbors when I was growing up.”
MIDWAY through the party, the lights were turned off, and a movie was projected on the wall. It began with numerous pictures of a younger, mustachioed Davis. A majority of the pictures showed him either dressed in various goofy outfits, or sitting amidst clusters of children, reading to them. At the end of the video, teachers and students were given a chance to speak to the camera about their principal. “He’s always been here,” said one student.
“He’s been practicing a lot,” said another. “He’s been to a lot of schools to practice, so he gets better each time.” One student recalled being injured and taken to the hospital in an ambulance, he said Davis followed the ambulance in his car to make sure he was okay. An older student described his vivid memory of meeting Davis on the student’s first day of kindergarten. “I thought he was really tall. And I was a little scared. But he shook my hand and I felt comfortable.” Amidst all these memories, one verdict, spoken by wide-eyed student after wide-eyed student, stood out as the overwhelming consensus: “He’s nice.”
After the video, Davis was presented with a President’s Honor Award from the PTA, a new suitcase for the travel that was expected of him during his retirement, and on the same theme, a painting by students in grades four through six of his silhouette the cockpit of a fighter jet spiraling away from the landmarks of Washington.
When Davis had a chance to speak to the people who had feted him for over an hour, he called Belle View Elementary “the best kept secret in Fairfax County,” and said that over the years, when people asked him what work he did, he would have to stop and think for a moment before he understood the question. “Getting up every morning, I didn’t feel like this was my job. This was my life. This is was I was meant to do,” Davis explained. He warned the staff that if the allures of travel faded, he might be coming back to Belle View as a part-time clerical worker.