Carole McReynolds Davis, artist and self-appointed cheerleader for Starkville and the Golden Triangle, died Wednesday afternoon. She was 72. Photo by: Courtesy Photo
June 19, 2014 11:07:18 AM
One thing about Southerners is that we are, at heart, conformists. We are suspicious of those whose actions and attitudes do not fall obediently, submissively in line with the consensus. The unspoken rules of propriety suppress whatever magical "heresy" we may secretly harbor.
Those rare few who will not be subdued are called eccentrics.
In other places, big cities especially, eccentrics aren't so very eccentric because there are so many of them.
But in the South, those who dare to be boldly, extravagantly different are commodities of the rarest sort. We refer to them as characters, a description that might be considered pejorative in some parts of the country, but is a term of endearment in the South.
Wednesday afternoon, Starkville lost a great, much beloved character. Carole McReynolds Davis, voracious lover of hats, mannequins, painting, writing, bottle trees, her old home on Louisville Street, the color red, the county hospital, Mississippi State University, Frank (her devoted husband) and all things Starkville, passed away at age 72.
"Important people" -- politicians, businessmen, educators and doctors, etc. -- come and go and are soon replaced by other "important people."
But folks like Carole McReynolds Davis, people whose influence may be hard to quantify, leave an indelible -- if no less important -- mark on their communities. There is no heir apparent for Carole because there is no one who is remotely qualified to take her place.
Carole was to Starkville what Edwina "Mother Goose" Williams is to Columbus, the unofficial ambassador of the city, an unapologetic champion of her community even during those times when the community seemed to have little to celebrate. If you ever needed a jolt of enthusiasm about Starkville, Carole had an inexhaustible supply of it she was eager to share.
In the coming days, tributes to Carole's memories and her unique contributions to her community will be suitably effusive.
But what always struck me about Carole was not that she loved so many things, but that she loved them with so fierce an appetite.
She was insatiable, really. If she loved something, her response was to get more of it, Frank being the one exception, of course.
Hats? Too many were not enough. Same went for bottle trees and store mannequins -- her favorite "Dottie" (dressed, naturally, in red) took up residence on her porch, leaving only when she was temporarily kidnapped by various sororities or fraternities from nearby Mississippi State.
She loved to paint, so she painted and painted. She loved to write -- her weekly columns for the Starkville Daily News were massive tomes riddled with long passages written in capital letters to emphasize an especially exuberant point. Most of those columns celebrated the charms and virtues of Starkville and MSU.
She loved the home she inherited, built in 1911 by her maternal great grandfather, and lovingly restored by Carole and Frank. Many were the unwitting strangers who walked too close to her house and were promptly accosted and invited in for an tour of "Pearson Place."
Carole and Frank may have seemed like an odd pairing. Frank -- demure, introspective, soft-spoken -- is, in many respects, what Carole most decidedly was not. He has never been much to tout his own achievements, numerous as they were. He didn't need to: He had in Carole the consummate publicist. She loved and admired and cherished Frank and their mutual devotion told the story of a marriage to be envied.
Frank and the Davis family grieve today. The entire community of Starkville grieves right along with them.
Hours after the news of her death began to spread, someone posted a YouTube video produced by MSU student Sarah Dale Harmon about Carole from 2010. The video covered all the obvious topics.
At the end of the video, Carole acknowledged she was "different."
"I look at life a little differently than most people," she said. "But that's the fun of it!"
She saw us better than we really are. We know it, too, and love her for her great generous spirit.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.