Prior to his visit, Dad received a list of eligible Jewish women from a friend of his, Edger Oppenheimer, of Oklahoma City. Mother was the second number Dad called on the list, with the first not answering his phone call. After several dates in New York, Dad visited Elene in Houston, where her mother lived, on July 4, 1952. Myrtle Meyer, Elene’s mother, knew Dad’s first cousin, the jeweler, who lived in Houston and who was also named Leon Davis. The two spent the day in Galveston, and Dad proposed shortly thereafter. On July 29, 1952, they were married in Houston at Elene’s sister’s house. After a short honeymoon in Colorado, the two returned to Tulsa, Oklahoma, buying a 2,600-square-foot home, the $5,000 down payment provided in the form of a loan from Myrtle to my father. After having four children—Lynn, Lance, Ross and Evan—and at my mother’s strong urging, the family moved to Houston to be close to Elene’s mother and to set an independent course for the family.
While some believe that my mother and father were opposites, I like to believe they were, in fact, complementary—my father, calm, deferential, wise; my mother, fiery, opinionated, brilliant.
Both believed in sacrifice for their children and lived according to the highest ethical and moral standards. After sixty years of marriage, the two became closer and closer. Near the end, my father could not wait for dinner to be over so that he could be with his bride and hold her hand. My father and mother were unfailingly devoted and loving toward one another, and they truly appreciated each other’s good qualities.
Growing up, Dad played tennis with all four children every weekend in Tulsa. We lived near Zinc Park, and in the summertime we played until evening at the recreation center in the park across the street and down a large hill from our house. At dinnertime, my father would walk onto the porch and whistle a tune for us to come home. We came running when we heard that high-pitched, melodious whistle, excited to jump into my father’s outreached arms. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we were treated to popcorn while watching movies. Dad made it the old-fashioned way, roasted in a big pot on a gas burner on a stove top. I still remember the loud, grinding sound as he moved the pot back and forth across the burner top in order to prevent the popcorn from burning.
We were a tennis family, and we traveled on weekends to tennis tournaments all over the state of Oklahoma and in my sister’s case, all over the country. We loaded the lawn chairs and coolers into the family station wagon, visiting every little town, often with American Indian-sounding names, on the tennis circuit. My parents watched from behind screened cement courts, counseling us on our play after every match. When my parents built the house in Houston, Dad made sure tennis courts were nearby. Dad was one of the founding members of the Houston Racquet Club, and in his seventies he organized a group of players that played every Saturday, known around the club as “Leon’s Bunch.”
When we were not playing tennis and since we were not members of any private country clubs, Dad arranged with the owner of the Trade Winds Motel for the family to swim at the hotel pool on weekends. The highlight was a visit to the hotel ice machine at the end of each outing.
In Houston, on my birthday in my early teens, my father indulged me by taking me red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico—driving to Freeport, fishing, then back to Houston in less than twenty-four hours, an exhausting trip. I still remember the diesel fumes on the party boat and the cold, fresh fried chicken my mother made for my brother, Dad, and me to eat during brief respites from fishing. It was always interesting to watch my dad, dressed in typical fishing garb—shorts, cap, and fishing knife strapped to his belt—interact with ease with the ragtag group of fishermen, made up of construction workers, retirees, and other assorted types.
After the war, in 1945, Leon and his brother, Elliott, formed Davis Bros. Leon bought half of Elliott’s share of assets that he personally had accumulated. Dad rented an upstairs efficiency apartment in a private home, and he drew $200 a month salary while Elliott drew $300 a month because he was married. From a small, one-room office—turn right and you encountered a house of ill repute; turn left and you arrived at the office of Davis Bros.—the two conducted business and shared a partners desk. From an ad in the newspaper, they purchased a hardware store. Later they formed Davis Sporting Goods in Tulsa, owning four stores in total. Dad ran the stores and the real estate while Elliot, the first ever geologist hired by Shamrock Oil Company, ran the oil effort.
I remember that Dad worked six and one-half days a week, but on Sunday mornings he used to take me to the local Jewish deli to buy bagels, cow tongue, borscht, and really delicious kosher dill pickles. At the sporting goods store, I was put to work, busily shining bicycles in the toy department. I was amused to find out later that Dad traveled the country as a toy buyer for the stores. On Thanksgiving, we were able to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade on the second-floor balcony of the store on Main Street in downtown Tulsa. Sometimes, we got to ride on the floats. My cousin Tim recalls being placed on an elephant procured by Dad for the annual Davis Sporting Goods circus-day sale.
In the oil area, in the 1950s, Davis Bros. was the most active independent in Kansas. A low point was a string of thirty-five straight dry holes, and yet they persevered. Following in their father’s footsteps, Elliott and Dad acquired large mineral packages primarily from insurance companies. They acquired in excess of five hundred thousand gross acres of minerals (over one hundred thousand net) in twenty-two states. These acquisitions represented the entire mineral assets of the Alliance Life Insurance Company, Peoria, Illinois; the Central Standard Life Insurance Company, Chicago, Illinois; the Commerce Trust Bank, Kansas City, Missouri; the Wilbe Lumber Company, Des Moines, Iowa; and the interests of numerous individuals and states. These mineral interests are primarily concentrated in the Anadarko and Arkoma Basins in Oklahoma, the Delaware Basin of Texas and New Mexico, and the Salt Basin and Smackover Provinces of Mississippi.
The largest major program conceived and implemented by Davis Bros. in the 1970s was its participation in the efforts of Davis McCoy, Inc. This company was organized by Davis Bros. to conduct an extensive exploration program on behalf of Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Gulf States Utilities of Beaumont, Texas. This program acquired in excess of four hundred thousand net acres of leases. This program led to the discovery of the giant one hundred million-barrel Chunchula Field, in Mobile County, Alabama, and the Waveland Field in Hancock County, Mississippi, among others.
In the 1980s, Davis Bros. found the northern extension of the Alabama Ferry Field in Leon County, Texas. It was the largest Cretaceous-aged discovery of its kind since the Giant Fairway Field found in 1960.
In 1995, Davis Bros. consummated an exploration agreement among the Osage Indian tribe of Oklahoma, Davis Bros., and Chevron. The agreement, very historic in nature, was the first major exploration agreement signed by the Osage Nation since 1916 and covered over four hundred thousand acres.
The Lucky Leon Field was discovered in 2001 by Davis Bros. The discovery well contained over three hundred net feet of pay at a well depth of eight thousand feet. It was the largest discovery in the nonpressured Yegua in the last thirty years in southeast Texas. This field was named after Dad and was a constant source of delight and pleasure to him. Printed on a placard affixed to his office door were the words “Lucky Leon.”
In other fields of endeavors, Dad was one of the pioneers in the computer industry and operated one of the first service bureaus for mainframe computers. Needing a large mainframe computer for the retail sporting goods business, his company purchased a large mainframe computer and obtained other customers to utilize the excess capacity. This company was later sold may times over, with the family ultimately owning a large block of GE shares. In 1958 Dad and Elliott formed the first privately held Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) in the country and the first in the state of Oklahoma; it was called Alliance Business Investment Company. They made investments in pipelines, drilling rigs, publishing, compressors, specialty chemicals, logging for oil and gas, manufacturing, building materials, and many others.