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Veterans advocate Dennis Davis dies


CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday the death of Dennis Davis, a military veteran and retired teacher who spent the last four years as the cabinet secretary of the Department of Veterans Assistance.

Davis, 79, served as Veterans Assistance secretary under Justice since his appointment in January 2017. Justice, who made the announcement during his coronavirus briefing, did not say when Davis died or what the cause of death was.

“We have lost a great, great man in the state of West Virginia,” Justice said. “We lost a big man. A man who was towering in stature, but a man who was an absolute model in every way. He could be tough, but every time you saw him you just wanted to gravitate to him because of his smile and his warmth. Dennis Davis, what an incredible man.”

Davis was born on Dec. 9, 1941. He joined the West Virginia State University ROTC program in 1959, kickstarting his service in the U.S. Army. He was stationed at For Knox, Ky., and Fort Sill, Okla., after graduation in 1965 from the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy.

After leaving the Army, Davis became a teacher for Kanawha County Schools. During his 29 years of service, Davis taught at Dupont Junior High School, and later became a job placement specialist at the Ben Franklin Career Center, the coordinator of adult education at the Garnet Career Center, the coordinator of cooperative education and an assistant superintendent for vocational, technical and adult education.

That resume led to his appointment by Gov. Cecil Underwood as executive director of what would one day become the Workforce Development Board in 1996. Davis also was president of the West Virginia Vocational Association and bylaws committee chairman of the American Vocational Association.

After running his own company from 2001 to 2009 and a brief stint on the Kanawha County Board of Education filling the unexpired term of a previous board member in 2013, Justice tapped Davis to run the Department of Veterans Assistance. The department operates 17 field officials to handle claims, plus a nursing facility, the West Virginia Veterans Homes, and the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery, where Davis was a member of the honor guard.

“This really, really hits home with me,” Justice said. “I thought the entire world of this man … Dennis lived a lifetime of service to this state and to this country”

James Hoyer, the retired major general and adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, expressed his condolences to Davis’ family, his wife Margaret, his five children, 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

“Dennis was, as the governor pointed out, a great person and a great veterans advocate,” Hoyer said. “He changed a lot of young lives as well as veterans’ lives. To Dennis’ family, God bless you and we have you in our prayers and we love you.”

Condolences also poured in from members of Congress on Tuesday, including U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney.

“As a U.S. Army Veteran and a lifelong resident of Institute, Dennis truly exemplified what it means to be a proud West Virginian and American,” Manchin said in a statement. “He was a joy to work with and to know as a friend. I am so deeply proud of what West Virginians like Dennis have achieved and what they will continue to accomplish for the cause of freedom.”

“Heartbreaking to hear of the passing of WV Dept. of Veterans Assistance Cabinet Secretary Dennis Davis,” Capito wrote on Twitter. “I’ve known Dennis for years, and he will be remembered as a great (West Virginian) and staunch supporter of our veterans.”

“West Virginia has lost a great icon.” Mooney wrote on Twitter. “I enjoyed working together with him to support veterans. We commemorate his leadership, his service as an Army veteran and his dedication to our state.”

“Very sad news on the passing of … Veterans Assistance Cabinet Secretary Dennis Davis,” McKinley wrote on Twitter. “Dennis was a strong advocate for veterans. Mary and I will keep his family in our prayers.”