Robert Davis, born in 1881, lived an energetic and adventurous life spanning two world wars that had dramatic impact upon international relations—an impact that he was personally and philosophically very concerned about. His life seemed to have begun more or less routinely when he chose to train at Dartmouth and Union Theological Seminary, and so become the fifth in his family line to serve as a Vermont Congregational minister. After pastoring a prominent church for ten years, he began a remarkable journey that would add the tasks of humanitarian, overseas reporter, librarian, farmer, teacher, lecturer and author to that of his role as Christian minister. In 1917, during World War I, he was appointed Commissioner for the American Red Cross in France, Austria, Hungary, Armenia, the Baltic States and Europe. Then, from being head of the American Library in Paris, he went on to become an editorial writer, correspondent and reporter in 31 countries. His first wife, Louise, with whom he had two sons, died in 1919.
Remaining in France, Robert Davis later married Kathleen Johnston and together they raised three daughters while living on a dairy farm and vineyard estate in southern France near Bordeaux. When World War II began and France fell to the Nazis, Mr. Davis fled through Casablanca and escaped to the United States. He resettled in Middlebury, Vermont where he was soon teaching at Middlebury College and was later acting president. His wife and daughters were able to join him in 1942.
Drawing upon his years of varied experiences with people and places, Robert Davis began to write books for young people. His grandson, Gardner Davis recalls, “For a while he was writing practically a book a month, 14 or 15 of them. Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady, was giving gold medals at this time for the best children’s book of the month. My grandfather won 8 of these medals.” Meanwhile this man, whose humorous, optimistic personality is evident in all his writings, was also a popular speaker.
A short biographical sketch of Davis in the original Gid Granger reveals a key to the upbeat philosophical tenor of his books and of his life: “Robert Davis has been guided by two rules: to pay cash. To drop a job the minute it ceases to be fun.” These rules, lived out with what seemed to be typical energy and initiative, are also reflected in the stories set in the distinctively varied and well delineated locations of his books, showing a universality of experience whether in Spain, North Africa, France, Canada, or New England. The theme of economic cooperation (so we can “pay cash,”—a form of social justice and a ticket to freedom) is set forth in a particularly engaging manner for youth. It presents in concrete terms Davis’ thoughtful answer to the questions raised by Soviet communism. He had seen first-hand, in his East European travels, what was wrong with their collective experiment. Determined characters like Gid Granger embody Davis’ ideals, and, in their confidence amidst difficult circumstances, show us, just as much today as then, what is right with the world.
And modern readers may be glad indeed that Robert Davis found it fun to write books for young people, thereby sharing with ongoing generations the fruit of the eventful and meaningful life he so energetically lived for others.
He is also author of the book That Girl of Pierre's.