John H. Davis Jr., teacher and former News American photographer, dies

John H. Davis Jr., a former photographer for the News American who changed careers and became a high school history teacher, died of stroke complications Wednesday at Brightview Rolling Hills. The Catonsville resident was 71.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of John H. Davis Sr., a World War II veteran and CIA photography analyst, and his wife, Virginia Johnson.

He was raised in Victory Villa and on North Bend Road, and was a 1964 graduate of Catonsville High School. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and trained at Parris Island, S.C., as a photographer.

After his service, Mr. Davis became a photographer at the old News American in 1967 and covered daily news assignments.

Mr. Davis covered breaking news stories, sports events, political campaigns, fashion and features. He had assignments at the White House, and during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War he was attached to an Israeli armored brigade. He shot photos in the Sinai, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

“John was a serious photographer who had a touch of the artist in him,” said Michael Olesker, a former colleague. “He was part of new breed of news photographers who wanted to make their pictures special.”

Mr. Olesker, who was a reporter during the 1968 Baltimore riots, recalled that he and Mr. Davis “were driving around in his car and Baltimore was on fire — and we ran a red light, and got stopped by the police.”

A biography prepared by his family said Mr. Davis spent a week in 1981 on tour with evangelical preacher Billy Graham in California for a series of articles on the New American Evangelism. In 1981, he also spent a week in the central mountains of Mexico with the Turascan Indians for an investigative story on Mexican immigration. He also covered NATO exercises in Spain and Germany.

Mr. Davis won numerous awards from the Hearst Corporation and Baltimore Press Photographs Association.

In 1970, while on an assignment taking photos of a Johns Hopkins University student sit-in during the Vietnam War, he met his future wife, Patricia Ann Silkworth, who was working at a nearby advertising agency.

She recalled that their first date was dinner at the Charcoal Hearth in Hopkins Plaza and then the movie “Z” at the Charles Theatre. He proposed a month later and they married June 17, 1970.

When the News American closed in May 1986, Mr. Davis took the summer off to spend time with his family.

“John always said it was his magical summer — living in shorts, going fishing and hanging out with his children. He even managed to cook some pretty interesting meals,” his wife said.

Mr. Davis, unable to find a job in news photography, decided to change careers.

He obtained a degree in history at Towson University and, after selling real estate briefly, became a substitute teacher at East Middle School in Carroll County. He later worked as a substitute at Franklin Middle School in Reisterstown.

He then taught at the Valley Academy in Towson, the Jemicy School and the Baltimore Lab School. He also worked in the Baltimore County public schools in special education at Lansdowne and Woodlawn high schools.

“John preferred working with the students in the private school setting, having the small class sizes and more one-on-one instruction time with the students,” his wife said. “He had a very good relationship with his students, many of whom kept in contact with him after graduating.”

He retired 2012.

Mr. Davis enjoyed writing about history. He wrote a trilogy of historical novels about the Revolutionary War — “The Hill,” about the battle of Bunker Hill; “A Thunder of Drums,” regarding the battle of New York; and “World Turned Upside Down – The Road to Yorktown, 1781.”

His last book, “Bones Beneath the Buttercups,” involved William the Conqueror.

He also enjoyed traveling and listening to classical music. He was a devoted grandfather.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Stallings Funeral Home, 3111 Mountain Road in Pasadena.

In addition to his wife of nearly 48 years, survivors include his son, John H. Davis III of Catonsville; his daughter, Jessica Ann Propst of Catonsville; his mother, Virginia Johnson Davis of Annapolis; three brothers, Sam Davis of Cape Coral, Fla., Mark Davis of Carroll County and Glenn Davis of Fredericksburg, Va.; three sisters, Mary Ellen McKee of Annapolis, Jacqueline Schlesinger, also of Fredericksburg and Lu Ann Peskanov of Long Island, N.Y.; and two granddaughters.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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