John F. Kennedy might be the most famous name to ever come from Riverdale Country School, but if anyone could give the 35th U.S. President a run for his money, it would be Al Davis.
The decorated World War II veteran worked at the school since 1953, primarily as a coach and teacher. Even when his work on both field and court ended, Davis was always there — and everyone knew who he was.
“Al would come to the field and every student-athlete would go over as a team and say hello to Al,” said John Pizzi, Riverdale Country School’s athletics director. “And it didn’t matter if it was softball or the soccer team. No matter what, they would all go over. It just shows what Al stood for and what he meant to our community.”
But there will be no more hellos to look forward to from Al Davis. He died Feb. 6 at 94.
Pizzi first met Davis in 2012, describing him as a man who knew how to make everyone he met feel special. Davis, he said, was the kind of guy who would ask about someone and their family and really care about the answer.
Davis was a twin, and enlisted in the U.S. Army with his brother Charles in 1943, earning assignments to the 17th Airborne Division as paratroopers. Davis was in Belgium on Dec. 17, 1944 when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower enlisted the 17th Airborne and other units to halt the German advance in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.
The 17th Airborne lost more than 1,000 soldiers that day, but Davis ensured that statistic would be minus one, rescuing a soldier who had been shot. For his bravery, Davis was awarded the Bronze Star.
After the war, instead of returning to Pittsburgh where he grew up, Davis moved to Riverdale. Not long after, he found a job as a physical education teacher at Riverdale Country School, taking on extra duties as a coach for boys basketball, soccer and baseball. Later, after he retired, Davis would spend time at the school as an archivist.
His legacy continues even to this day with the creation of The Al Davis Award in 1997, presented to the most outstanding teacher each year. And if that weren’t enough, the school also gives out the Al Davis Scholar-Athlete Award annually for the most deserving athlete.
“The one thing I will never do is let his legacy die,” Pizzi said. “He had an amazing life and had an amazing impact on thousands of students. So we’re going to continue to give out this award, because when we give it out, it’s important that we talk about Al.”
The Fieldston Road school already is working to update its sports team jerseys to include Davis’ initials in the design, literally stitching the longtime coach into the figurative fabric of Riverdale Country School.
His love for sports ran deep, and Davis was known for spending his time at games, on and off campus.
“We went to a lot of games,” said Michael O’Rourke, Davis’ longtime friend and neighbor. “He went to a lot of Navy games, and he was a real sports fan. He was a Giants fan and went to Yankees games.”
The two were friends for some 25 years, both meeting in their late 60s. And if Davis wasn’t at a game, O’Rourke said, his nose was in a book.
“He wanted to know everything,” O’Rourke said. “He was very inquisitive and always asking questions.”
Part of what O’Rourke will miss the most is spending time his neighbor.
“I visited him quite often, and the last time I went to visit him, he was asleep,” O’Rourke said. “And then I heard he was gone. He was a good guy and I miss him.”
Davis’ burial was a private ceremony in Pittsburgh although a memorial service is planned for Riverdale Country School.
In life, Davis embodied what it meant to put others before yourself, O'Rourke said. At times he was a loner, but a warm person and a gentleman.
“He was one of the most caring people that you will ever meet,” Pizzi said. “He was also what the Riverdale community embodied — respect, character and doing things the right way. And he never stopped being the great Al Davis.”