Bob Davis likes what he sees about the Martinsville area

Bob Davis stands at the site of future Fieldhouse/Arena at corner of Fayette and Market streets in Martinsville

April 3, 2007

Bulletin Staff Writer

When Robert "Bob" Davis sees the Martinsville area, he likes what he sees now and envisions that it can be an even better place to live.

That outlook has not changed since he moved here in 1992 from Buffalo, N.Y., to be general manager of the Continental Can Corp. (now Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.).

Davis, a Pennsylvania native, said he had been working in Buffalo for Continental Can since 1969 and, tired of city life, had longed for a change. Finally, two positions became available in the company, one in Richmond and the other here.

After visiting this area, it was an easy decision, he said.

"I didn't want to live in big cities any more," he said. "I like a smaller town," especially one that offers the quality-of-life features that he has found here.

Those include, he said, a low cost of living, natural resources and scenic beauty, lack of big-city congestion and a central location.

"It's a win-win living here," he said, from being within a relatively short driving distance from larger cities to the changing seasons.

"The fall and spring (in this area and region) are phenomenal," he said. "In the spring, there is not a prettier place in the world."

When he and his wife, Martha, moved here, he said most of his time was spent at his job, and he had little time to get involved in the community like he wanted.

But after retiring in April 2003, he said it was time to "give back to the community."

He initially was on the board of trustees at Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County. When that hospital was sold, he moved to a seat on the board of The Harvest Foundation.

The foundation was set up after the sale with the profit, about $150 million, to be used for the betterment of the community.

Part of Davis' job as a board member is to make sure the money is spent wisely on projects that will benefit the area.

One of the needs he saw was related to sports. A sports fan from his youth and former baseball player who said he at one time entertained the notion of trying to play pro ball, he had enjoyed watching the Martinsville Astros play.

"We had lost our minor league baseball team," he said. "I thought we needed to do something (to fill that void)."

The foundation appointed a 15-member committee to look into what could be done in sports to benefit the area, and the committee hired a consultant to study the situation.

Davis said the consultant was instructed to "give us something that we need, that will sustain itself and that will drive economic development."

The consultant eventually recommended a fieldhouse/arena for basketball and a soccer complex, a $20 million package that is being financed by The Harvest Foundation.

After that recommendation, the city and county agreed to cooperate and form a separate authority, the Southern Virginia Recreation Facilities Authority, for the project, he said, with five seats from the city and five from the county.

Since Davis was "involved with the project from the gitgo," he said he was elected chairman of the authority. The Harvest Foundation will build the facilities and the authority will manage them, he said.

Davis said he is convinced the fieldhouse/arena, which will be located at the corner of Fayette and Market streets in Martinsville, and the soccer complex, which will be on about 90 acres near the intersection of Irisburg Road and the U.S. 58 bypass, meet the criteria used by the committee.

Besides the tangible benefits of providing a source of recreation for residents and of fueling economic growth, especially in uptown Martinsville, Davis said there's a pride aspect as well.

"People can say, 'That (the fieldhouse/arena) is ours. We have that because we sold our hospital," Davis said.

Although Davis will be busy as chairman of the authority trying to do all he can to see that the soccer complex is ready for play by the fall of 2008 and construction of the fieldhouse/arena is finished by 2010, he continues his work as vice president of The Harvest Foundation as well.

"I have two hats, two sets of notebooks," he said, referring to his roles with the authority and the foundation.

Also, he is an elder at First Presbyterian Church and drives a bus for a church youth group.

Davis said he was apprehensive about retiring because he thought he may not be busy enough.

Just the opposite has happened, he said, adding that he had hoped to spend a lot more time doing yard work and have "the most beautiful yard in Martinsville."

"I barely have time to do it (yard work)," he said.

But he doesn't mind the work and thinks the area may sometimes be underappreciated.

Davis said he has witnessed the loss of jobs here, but he has seen it much worse in other areas, even his hometown of McKeesport, Pa., which saw its population drop from 68,000 to 28,000 after steel mills folded.

"This is a great place to live," he said, and he envisions Martinsville as not only a place where people love to live, but a place people love to visit as well.

 "This can be a residence of choice and a community of choice," he said. "Even if you don't live here, it's a place you want to come to."

 NAME: Robert M. "Bob" Davis
 AGE: 63
 RESIDENCE: Chatmoss
 FAMILY: Wife, Martha; son, Rob, LaGrange, Ill.; daughter, Kristin
 Hernandez, of Raleigh, N.C.; three grandchildren, Nathan, 5, Lillian, 9
 months, Nicole, 13, and Kristin has one on the way.
 OCCUPATION: Retired as general manager of Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.
 (formerly Continental Can Corp.); served in Army with rank of lieutenant;
 board member and vice president of The Harvest Foundation; board member
 and chairman of the Southern Virginia Recreation Facilities Authority.
 EDUCATION: Graduated from McKeesport (Pa.) High School and Grove City
 College with a major in business administration.
 HOBBIES: Golf, swimming, sports (especially college basketball and NASCAR)


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