Most people make a lot of acquaintances in life, but they can count their true friends on one hand – and that’s if they’re lucky.
Willie Davis was a true friend, for so many years that I don’t even remember when we first met. He was a consultant on disability issues for Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. when I was the vice-president.
He later was a consultant to 7 Generation Games on the Making Camp Ojibwe and Fish Lake games, helping develop content as well as recruiting schools to serve as pilot sites. For years, he would tell me that I had to meet his sister Annette, that I would really like her and we should work together. We finally met a few years ago and we’ve worked together ever since. Whatever, I did, Willie always was there with a helping hand, a pat on the back and word of encouragement.
My favorite saying of Willie’s was,
You’ve got to be there for the cause and not the applause.– Willie Davis
Because he was not one to seek out attention for himself maybe you don’t know:
- In 2005, he received the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor of the Year award from the Consortium of Administrators of Native American Rehabilitation. He also received national recognition for his volunteer work, especially with the disability community and youth.
- He was an avid pool player.
- He liked bow-hunting, although he never did get me the deer he promised!
- He organized the highly successful Tribal Disability Conference, held on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.
- He was a proponent of the Turtle Mountain Tribe adopting the Americans with Disabilities Act and was very proud of his tribe being the first in the nation to do so.
- Willie was a talented author, when he could find the time to write. Here are my two favorite articles of his.
He wrote as food for thought,
“My life is full and gives me pleasure immensely. I get out of life each day what I put into it. Some days I am unable or don’t feel like doing much, so I focus on my health and getting better. Other days I continue to work and involve myself with projects, people and issues that are very important to me. Just as I believe I would have done before my car accident, I give back to my community and feel that each person doing their part can make this world a better place for everyone and keep things in balance. Just as my ancestors (The Ojibwe Tribe of the Turtle Mountains) believe, we must keep in harmony and balance. Life will provide you with lessons. The question is, ‘Can we learn from them!'”
In August of 1980 at the age of 18, Willie was hurt in a serious car accident that involved drinking and driving. His resulting spinal injury resulted in life-long paraplegia. His dreams of playing college basketball were dashed, but his journey of healing, though arduous, opened his eyes to different perspectives and horizons.
After the accident, Willie continued to pursue higher education at the University of North Dakota and graduated. Not only did he build on his education and experience with every aspect of the field of disability services, but the immense inner strength and sensitivity he had possessed carried him through his career. Over 25 years, Willie established himself at the local, state and national levels as a crusader who fought and advocated for the disability community. He wrote:
“I feel that the more I can give back to my community the more positive things can be and the better the future can be for the next generation.”
I’ve long thought that the true measure of how successful a person has been in life is how much people will miss them after they are gone. Willie was a great success, as a person and a friend.
All of us at 7 Generation Games will miss him very much but I know I will miss him the most.