My father bought a farm, which he had somebody else run, up on East Hill out in Barre Town, and I could pick up WHN, New York, which was the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseball games. Red Barber was the announcer everybody remembers, but there were others. Connie Desmond and later Vin Scully announced those games.
At that time there were two pitchers. Whitlow Wyatt was one I remember from the Brooklyn Dodgers, who won 22 games one year, versus Mark Cooper from the St. Louis Cardinals. And the Cardinals were at that time, the great enemy. So I began to bleed Dodger blue for no particular reason.
There were two magazines that were sold and bought primarily by young boys from 12 to 15. The first was Boys Life. The other was The Open Road for Boys. And I, somehow or other, got a copy of The Open Road for Boys, and there was a story of a young man named Roy Tucker. He was a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he hurt his arm and went back to the minors. And then came back and went back to the Dodgers and played center field because his arm was not adequate to be a pitcher anymore. That was my start with the Brooklyn Dodgers
My aunt took me down to Braves Field—first time I ever went to a major league baseball game. I remember, we went out to the ballpark before the day of the game just to see what it looked like. I remember looking out on that field, and my first thought was, “My God, it’s in color.” Because in those days, in the movies, everything was black and white. And so when you go to a baseball game with the beautiful green grass and the colorful scoreboards and advertising signs and so on, it’s a different thing. It was the Dodgers and the Braves. I remember the occasion. We went several different times. I got to Yankee Stadium later on. I got to Ebbets Field on my wedding trip. Damn near froze to death, but I saw Jackie Robinson, who became a hero of mine.
When Robinson came up in ‘47, I was still in high school. My father was president of the National Life at the time. Either that or he had a good job there, general counsel, one or the other. He, he was friendly with the advertising director of American Magazine. And he somehow got two tickets to the second game of the World Series in 1947 at Yankee Stadium. One he got for me, and he had a friend, another attorney, who agreed to take me down, and we went down. As I recall we went on the train, although I don’t have any solid recollection of how we traveled there or even the hotel we stayed at.
He said, “We’ll go to the first game too.” Well, we had tickets to the second game, and I didn’t quite figure out how that was gonna happen. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” And he had to meet a fellow for business. He met him, and they got in the cab together. And I was in the front seat, I guess, with the driver. And they were talking business. It’s about ten minutes past one. The game started at 1:30. This is the first game of the 1947 World Series, and we didn’t have a ticket. We finally get to the ballpark, about twenty past one. I think we had about ten minutes to get into the game. We walked over the gate, and Finn says to me, “Give me five bucks, five dollars.” I said, “Alright.” I gave him five dollars, and Finn put some money with it and walked up to the ticket taker, shook hands with the guys and said, “How are ya?”
And the guy said, “How much?” Finn told him how much was in his hand. He let us right in. And I submit that that game and probably a lot of World Series games during those days, that there was at least twice the number of people there that were announced, because we got in very easily.
This is game one. This is the first World Series where an acknowledged black man was allowed to play. But we didn’t have seats. We had standing room wherever we could find it. And there wasn’t an awful lot of standing room. Well, the greatest amount of standing room we could identify was in the upper deck of the right field stands, which when we headed that way we suddenly figured out—or I figured out, I didn’t say anything about it—was all black. And that’s the tickets apparently that they had been allotted in some fashion. So I got up there, I don’t know how it all happened, but here was a little white guy in the back of the back row. And they opened a place for me and put me right down front, and I could see the game wonderfully.
The thing that always surprises me as I think back on that: I was not aware that this was a historic occasion, that this hadn’t happened before. And I’m sure they must’ve been talking about it on the radio or maybe in the New York Times or wherever, but I had no sense of that. Every time I talk about it, I think back on it, and it sort of amazes me.
Robinson was unique. He stole Yogi Berra blind that day. He stole three bases, changed the whole tenor of that first game with the tension he created in the Yankee pitching staff.
I’ve read three books on Jackie Robinson and he was really something to be the man he was and to survive. He was lucky he wasn’t killed by a fastball to the head because they were throwing at him as a matter of course, especially in places like St. Louis and down in spring training in Florida and so on. Even then, I think he was staying in separate hotels often times and eating alone. Quite a hero.
I’ve often felt that Jackie Robinson perhaps changed the attitude or the tenor of how we thought about black people in America. Jackie Robinson did what Obama couldn’t do, and Mandela maybe did do. He made it possible for a union pipe fitter to cheer for a black man in a baseball game in front of all his friends. Apparently the love for the Dodgers was greater than the hate for the Negro or the black man. That’s why Jackie Robinson, in my opinion, is one of the top two or three giants of the century.
Tom Davis was a seventeenth generation Vermonter, political activist, public speaker, storyteller, author, and statesman. Also known as “Tom Terrific,” he was widely admired for his quick wit, humor, humility, kindness, wisdom, and generosity. He valued tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and activity and lived his life accordingly. Tom's Bio and Photo Album →
In 2013, Tom Davis hired me to record his recollections and thoughts. I was serving on the Barre Historical Society (BHS) board with Tom. Years before, I had interviewed him about the early days of skiing in Vermont for the Vermont Historical Society and knew him to be an engaging story teller and welcoming person. At BHS meetings I found him to be committed to Barre, social justice, and working people as well. One night, Tom told me that, after having written three books about Barre and people he had known and worked with (and two political mystery novels), he was, at age 82, tired of writing but had more to say. I was honored when he asked me to interview him and to record his memories.
Tom called our sessions “interviews,” but little interviewing was necessary. Tom and I would meet in the conference room at Barre’s Aldrich Public Library and, after I’d set up and found a chair for him that didn’t squeak and he’d adjusted his hearing aids to prevent feedback, I’d ask a question, and off he’d go, speaking freely, keenly, and with gentle humor, while I mostly just sat and listened.
One session led to another. Eventually I had recorded 25 hours of Tom’s recollections about people he’d known, events he’d witnessed and participated in, and changes he’d seen. He also spoke about his love of baseball, skiing, and golf, about the importance of music, and about a world and state that are radically different from the ones he entered in 1931. I found his words illuminating and inspiring, and I admired his deep commitment to Vermont and Barre and, beyond that, to human understanding, fairness, and kindness. It was quickly clear that Tom had a prodigious memory and genuinely cared about the people who had passed through his lifetime of public service—whether a governor, a teacher, a granite worker, or an interviewer.
Tom was also a champion of life-long learning–for himself as well as for others. “Education doesn’t begin and end with the benchmarks of man,” he told my microphone. “Life is education. I may be wrong, but it seems that I’m never going to be able to catch up with what I need to know.”
He also had his peeves, especially partisan politics, income inequality, and the domination of social service programs by office-bound bureaucrats who had little interest in learning directly from the people they purportedly served.
Tom came to his increasingly progressive views without recourse to ideology and despite the leanings of some family and friends. He admired both his Republican father and Franklin Roosevelt and, after a brief flirtation with far-right conservatism while a student at UVM, saw the need for society to stand up for those without voice or opportunity. He was puzzled by people who “could give ten dollars to one man but wouldn’t give one dollar to ten men.” He, on the other hand, had “never been able to walk by somebody who needs a dollar.”
Tom and I discussed what to do with these recordings and decided that a section of the Barre Historical Society’s Old Labor Hall Web site would be an appropriate place for audio segments, transcripts, and photographs. Tom had a deep commitment to the Barre Historical Society and to the Socialist Labor Party Hall, which the BHS owns, maintains, and uses for a variety of community and educational events. The generosity of several folks who also want others to be able to benefit from Tom’s memories and wisdom has now made that site a reality.
The audio segments and transcriptions on this site have been edited for economy and clarity, while still retaining Tom’s warm, thoughtful voice. Some draw on multiple times that Tom spoke about a topic or told a story, and I’ve tried to edit and weave them into a single narrative. Some of Tom’s recollections also appear in his books and in the three commentaries he recorded for Vermont Public Radio in the months before his death.
The complete 25 hours of interviews also cover much more territory, and new segments may appear in the future. Unfortunately, we never got to some topics, including golf, skiing, and chess–three of Tom’s great passions. At some point, we hope that the full transcript will also be available, whether on this site or through a suitable archive.
It has been a pleasure and honor to work on this project. Tom Davis enriched my life. I hope he will contribute to yours as well.
Mark Greenberg, Montpelier VT, April 2020
Tom talks about life in his home town of Barre, Vermont.
The Community was Alive - Barre Memories (Part 1)
Barre life in the 1930s and '40s
A Melting Pot - Barre Memories (Part 2)
Ethnic diversity and street life in Barre
It was a Magnet
Tom talks about his family.
My Mother Was More Liberal
A Fair-minded Person
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History (Part 1)
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History (Part 2)
\"My Mother Was More Liberal\" — Corinne Eastman Davis
Tom\'s mother and her family
A Fair-minded Person – Deane Davis
Tom\'s father\'s family and his politics.
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History, Part1
Tom looks back on the early history of the Davis family in America.
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History, Part 2
Tom brings his family history to his own generation.
The politicians Tom knew and worked for and the programs he helped them implement
The Beginning of Change
FDR’s visit to central Vermont
He Wasn’t Afraid to Lose
Governor Phil Hoff
A Magnificent Leader
Sargent Shriver in Vermont
A Sense of Mission
Tom's experiences as Vermont's Secretary of Human Services
Involve the Poor – The Poverty Program (Part 1)
Vermont and the War on Poverty
True Believers—The Poverty Program (Part 2)
Directing the Office of Economic Opportunity and working across party lines
Somebody Met the Bus - Shorty and Joe
The importance of human relationships in social work
A Great Education
Working in Windsor Prison and for The Vermont Alcohol Rehabilitation Board
Tom talks about his love of baseball.
A Preferred Leisure – Baseball
From Barre youth teams to the University of Vermont
A Bunch of White Guys
Tom at the University of Vermont
- Beyond Depot Square: Stories from the Heart of Vermont, self-published, 2006
- Echoes of Vermont . . . People and Politics in the Green Mountains, self-published, 2010
- Out from Depot Square: Central Vermont Memories from the 1930s to the 1950s, self-published, 2006
- The Duval Conspiracy, Marshall Jones Company, 1995
- The Governor’s Man, self-published, 2002
- Deane C. Davis, with Nancy Price Graff – Deane C. Davis: An Autobiography, The New England Press, 1991
- Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions, Jeffrey Potash – Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont, Vermont Historical Society, 2004
- Paul Heller – Granite City Tales: Writings on the History of Barre, Vermont, self-published, 2012
- Russell Belding – Hidden History of Barre, Vermont, The History Press, 2011
Many thanks to the people who helped make this project possible:
Gerry Ghazi, Alban Richey, Arthur & Anita Ristau, Bruce Seifer, Carol Healy, Clare & David Duke, David & Nancy Lacroix, Edith A Miller, Elizabeth Slayton, Ellen S. Sivret, Fernand & Ann Peloquin, Joanne Granai, Karen Lane, Marjorie Power, Mary Miller, Maureen Morton, Maurice & Doris Fortier, Paul C Heller, Peter Anthony & Marsha Kincheloe, Quinn Premont, River Valley Workforce Institute, Ruth Ruttenberg, Stephen Martin, Wayside Restaurant, Inc., William & Olene Doyle, and the Aldrich Public Library
- Project & Web site producer: Mark Greenberg
- Web site design and implementation: Marjorie Power
- Interviews recorded and edited by Mark Greenberg/Upstreet Productions
- Interview transcriber: Katherine Drury
- Davis family photographs and memorabilia courtesy Mike Davis and the Davis family
- Tom Davis Labor Hall photo: Mark Greenberg
- Aldrich Public Library, Vermont Historical Society, World Wide Web