Luke Davis walked the sideline at the Canyon Del Oro-Tempe McClintock football game on Friday night, taking notes for a story he'd write for The Explorer. J.D. Fitzgerald, the CDO student who shoots photographs for the newspaper, didn't recognize his co-worker at first, because Luke was giving a beard a try.
"He was in a good mood," J.D. said. Luke was excited about a Saturday trip to Phoenix, and a Coyotes hockey game, with his beloved wife Nikki. "He was out there having fun."
The CDO football field was a special place for Luke Davis, who lost his life on I-10 Saturday at the too-young age of 30. Luke's father, John, a CDO graduate who came home to teach and coach at the school, helped build that field. On Saturdays, John Davis and others would drive their pickups to Calle Concordia, work the shovels, pick up rocks.
"When Luke started working for the newspaper, it was like a perfect circle, from John helping build it … to Luke doing his reporting on that field," Luke's mom Marianne said Monday. "We are highly fond of that field."
John Davis had multiple sclerosis. He coached "until the MS wouldn't allow him to coach any more," Marianne said. John died some three years ago.
"The kids," Luke and his sister Lane, "grew up with him having MS," Marianne said. Her husband was "a model of positive thinking and dealing with horrible things that happen to you. Luke was definitely his son. He took a lot from his Dad about how to handle life, what was important and what wasn't. It has shown up in both of my children, who are totally and completely fabulous human beings."
Ralph Avella is the manager at Bluefin Seafood Bistro. He hired Luke as a bartender some five years ago, when Luke "came in all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" … and never really changed. "We used to pick on him," Ralph said. "'Dude, you're always smiling. How are you not jaded yet?'"
"He was never negative about anything," J.D. said. "He always tried to find the good in things."
"Luke always, always had that positive attitude," said Ralph, who became one of Luke's great friends. "That's the number one thing that is getting to myself, and his friends" – that someone who has "gone through his life being positive, never thinking ill of anybody, just being happy," can suddenly be taken away.
Luke sometimes wondered if tending bar at Bluefin was "good for the world," and if he should be doing something else. "I'd say 'what, are you kidding?'" Marianne said. "'People love you. You just make the world a better place. Keep passing out those mimosas.'"
Luke had "this sort of high-level expectation of himself," she said. "What's the highest thing I should do at this point? What should this look like if done well? He was very smart.
"He was, also, just a heck of a lot of fun."
Luke was "one of the few people who didn't mind coming home and telling you some stupid thing he'd just done," Marianne said.
Perhaps the highlight:
John Davis had a "gorgeous Cutlass," a "beautiful convertible. Luke decided to drive it to track practice. All the girls would be stunned and thrilled. He decided he would jump over the door, for the cheerleaders practicing outside."
When Luke leaped, his flip-flop caught the door lock, "and he went flying head first, right out onto the ground in front of the cheerleaders. He got up and smiled sheepishly."
At home, he told the story. "That's an awful story to tell on yourself, yet that was the kind of thing he would tell," Marianne said.
Luke Davis could be counted upon.
"If we were ever in a jam, if somebody called in sick, if we'd need an extra person … Luke, unless he legitimately had something going on, you knew he'd be there for you," Ralph said.
When Marianne had her knee replaced, Luke, Lane and Nikki "covered me the whole first week, when I was in need of a lot of support," she said. "He was there for me. All three of them were spectacular." Luke "was a tremendous support to Lane and me after John passed on," Marianne said. And he remained so.
In addition to the 15 hours (wink, wink) he gave to the newspaper, Luke worked multiple shifts at Bluefin, invested himself in his relationship with Nikki, and gave a hand and a smile to his mom and sister.
"Part-time sportswriting" is an oxymoron; the work can't be done well on a part-time basis. It's just too hard, because it's always a chase. Games are at night. Stats and schedules take time to assemble. Coaches are hard to reach. He sent one e-mail one night, and it said … "I tried to put quotes together for swim, but I ended up playing phone tag (I'm at my other job, can't answer, call back, leave message, repeat) with the coaches."
That's not a whine; Luke Davis was not a whiner. It was, instead, a glimpse at the mixed-up life of a part-time sports writer.
In an e-mail from late October, after a lengthy explanation, Luke wrote … "Anyway, hope all is well, again, apologies, I'm trying to fit in both jobs and now taking care of my mom, and it's all very … convoluted," he wrote. Convoluted, as in "involved," as in "intricate."
"But," Luke added, "the section will be there."
It always was, even when the time stamps on Luke's last e-mails indicated the stories had been sent at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday.
No apologies ever needed.
Word of the accident came to Bluefin on a busy Saturday night. Only three of the employees knew what had happened. When the restaurant closed and the last guests gone, the doors were locked, "and the three of us just broke down crying," Ralph said. They shared the news. "Every person that works there was devastated."
The restaurant has received dozens of phone calls about Luke. There have been many postings on social media. Many people, among them co-workers from long ago, are feeling a real loss.
"It all goes back to the personality thing, to the positive thing, to the smile thing," Ralph said. "Luke definitely was the guy, when people were stressing, who was there to put a smile on your face and helped you get through the night."
Along with "his dear Nikki, his favorite thing was standing on that field or in that gym and writing, and getting excited, and hearing the kids' stories," Marianne said. "The care of the kids passed on from John to Luke. He wanted them to all feel special, and what they were doing was special.
"He was a complete joy," Marianne said. "He was a wonderful son, just a wonderful kid."
"I'll see you on Monday," Luke said to J.D. as they left Friday's game.
Oh, if only that were true.
— Dave Perry