Byron D. Davis, 51, of Germantown, a respected educator and mentor to secondary school students, died Tuesday, Jan. 31, of heart failure at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
Mr. Davis taught history for two decades at Germantown Friends School before becoming head of the Upper School in 2015. He welcomed the chance to mentor pupils, said his wife, Erin O. Davis.
Mr. Davis was born in a tough, low-income neighborhood of St. Louis. "During his childhood, water was free, penny candy was actually a penny," and children treated their elders with deference and respect, his family said. His mother, Trulee, taught him that education, combined with persistence, was the key to climbing out of poverty. He graduated from St. Louis University High School, an all-boys Jesuit institution, in 1983.
His struggles gave him the confidence to command almost every room he entered, his family said. He met his wife, Erin O'Kelley, when the two were students at Loyola University in New Orleans. At first, she didn't want to date him, but he persisted. They married in 1989 and welcomed two daughters, Asha and Kai Davis, to their family.
Mr. Davis put himself through college doing stand-up comedy. That humor later served him well in the classroom, the boardroom, and the barbershop, his family said. He earned a bachelor's degree from Loyola and completed a master's degree from Temple University, both in history.
In 1995, when one of his professors at Temple told him of an opening at Germantown Friends, he jumped at the chance, first to teach middle-school history and in 2003, to teach American history in the Upper School. In 2006, he added another role, 11th grade adviser.
When he became head of the Upper School in 2015, "people were thrilled," his wife said. "He loved it, the problem solving and communication. He was good at talking to parents."
He made a special effort to mentor minority students. He also helped create partnerships with the surrounding community, authored the school's mission statement on diversity, and served on the admissions committee for the Upper and Middle Schools.
While in graduate school, Mr. Davis volunteered as a museum curator at the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, creating photographic exhibits about the civil rights movement and other aspects of African American history. Much later, he ran in 2008 for the 198th Legislative District seat.
Survivors include Mr. Davis' wife and two daughters.
A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 10, at Arch Street Friends Meeting House, 320 Arch St. Burial is private.
Memorial donations may be made to Germantown Friends School Community Scholars Program, c/o Germantown Friends School, Advancement Office, 31 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia 19144.