Ken Davey’s name might not be the first thing that pops up when you Google the words “Moab icon,” and as a deeply private person, he might have preferred it that way.
But to his many friends and acquaintances in the community, perhaps few other people in their lives have been such influential figures, as someone who quietly yet steadfastly supported them, and helped Moab become a better place.
Davey, who died on Sunday, Dec. 3, at age 64 due to complications from pneumonia, was many things to many people, including the dean of Moab’s press corps and an economic development specialist with two local government entities.
Away from the spotlight, Moab resident Emily Campbell remembers Davey as an “omnipresent force” in local residents’ lives, helping those like her find their way as they relocated to Moab.
“I know that he made a difference in so many people’s lives, in small, small ways, as well as big ways,” Campbell said. “Losing him is like losing that part of the community.”
“He always helped just to help, because it was the right thing to do,” former Moab Community Development Director David Olsen added.
Moab is changing fast, former Grand County Council member Chris Baird said in a Facebook post, and losing one of its “quirky old anchors” makes the whole place feel more adrift.
That’s a sentiment that Davey’s longtime friend Janet Buckingham shares.
“He was an anchor, and some of us are feeling adrift because our anchor is gone,” Buckingham said.
A true Renaissance man, Davey worked over the years as a delivery driver, sidewalk and street repairman, factory laborer, railroad brakeman, door-to-door encyclopedia salesman and copy editor. And that was all before he moved to Moab in 1987.
In the three decades that followed, Davey built up his lengthy credentials in Moab – first as a reporter for The Times-Independent and Channel 6 News for 13 years, and then as an economic development specialist with Grand County and the City of Moab. He continued in the latter position until September 2015, when a previous city council eliminated his position – along with Olsen’s job – during former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson’s administration.
The ouster of the two men ignited a controversy that continued for the remainder of Davidson’s tenure with the city, and eased up only when Davidson herself was fired the following September.
But Davey remained positive through it all, Olsen said.
“He wasn’t hurt,” Olsen said. “He actually felt relieved about what happened – not that he liked what happened. The relief was about not having to work under a dictatorship-type situation.”
From New York to Moab
Kenneth Francis Davey was born in the Bronx and moved to Garden City, New York, at a young age.
It was there that he developed his lifelong love of sports – especially baseball and football, according to Olsen.
As a student at St. Anne’s Catholic School, Davis watched the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he was taken aback when he heard the sportscasters talking about how great the Yankees were.
“… I didn’t like it that the team that was better, in the eyes and voices of the announcers, was sure to win, and from that point on I started rooting for the underdogs … a lifetime belief,” he wrote in a 2012 Facebook post. “(Which) has not been profitable on my rare trips to Vegas sports books.”
Former Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission Director Tara Penner, who worked with Davey for more than 10 years, said he didn’t really talk about his early days in New York.
“He would always just joke in his Ken way that nobody liked him there,” she said.
That same brand of sharp humor carried over into his long and deeply thought-out conversations with friends about politics and current events – and even in the workplace, from time to time.
One year, Penner made a huge plate of fruits, vegetables, yogurt and cheese for Davey, who was trying to get healthier at the time. Needless to say, his reaction caught her off guard.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Is this some kind of sick joke? Are you trying to poison me?” Penner said.
He then asked her where the cake was – and walked away from her.
Buckingham said that Davey often played devil’s advocate – even if he happened to agree with her about a particular issue.
He wasn’t playing that role when he voiced his support several years ago for Grand County’s involvement in the controversial Seven County Infrastructure Coalition. Davey was approaching the issue from an economic development standpoint, Buckingham said, and although she disagreed with him from time to time, he could always make her stop and think things over.
“I may not have changed my opinion, but because I respected him so much, he made me step back and say, ‘Are you sure this is really what you want to think?’” she said.
Olsen remembers many of his conversations with Davey the same way.
“He always made you think, ‘Hey, maybe I’d better rethink what I’m doing, whether it’s right or wrong,” he said.
“He made me love Moab”
Davey was also known for taking friends like Campbell under his wing.
“I was so inspired by the lengths he went to, to try to create opportunities for the place we call home,” Campbell said. “He made me love Moab.”
“He made me feel like I could just make a difference, which is just not something that you find in people very often,” she added. “In every conversation that we ever had, he made me feel better about myself.”
Former Triassic Industries co-owner Scott Anderson has said that it was through Davey’s support and encouragement that he launched his tree-trimming business, which has since changed hands under new ownership.
Anderson said that Davey first approached him in 2008 with information about grant programs offered through the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development that could help him expand his business. When Anderson latched on to the idea, Davey successfully went to bat for him at the state’s economic development office, he said.
Up until then, Anderson said he was “goofing off” with a few hand tools in his backyard and selling things at the Moab Farmers Market from time to time.
“We went from a backyard to renting a shop and buying a bunch of equipment,” he told the Moab Sun News in 2015.
Without Davey’s help, Anderson said, he would have given up on his dream.
Buckingham saw firsthand a side to Davey that not everyone got to see.
In 2001, Buckingham experienced a health problem, and she underwent chemotherapy for a year. Every Thursday, she had to give herself injections, leading to negative side effects the next day.
She had been working as a freelance writer and was feeling isolated at the time, but without fail, Davey would bring her meals each Friday from Eklecticafe, which his wife Julie Fox owns.
“I honestly don’t think he missed a Friday for 52 weeks,” she said.
Davey was there for Penner, too, after he learned that she was coping with an illness.
She began an aggressive treatment in 2014, and she said that Davey stood by her more than anyone, although she never asked him for his help.
“Being the observant person he was, he took it upon himself,” she said.
“I keep hearing similar stories,” Penner added. “How in the world was he in so many places … and giving to so many people?”
Buckingham said that Davey’s simple acts of kindness are one reason why she felt such deep loyalty to him, and why she got involved in efforts to promote transparency in local government when Davey was fired.
“It just hurt me to see someone treated as badly as he was when I knew he had such a good heart and such loyalty to the city and the community of Moab,” she said.
While he never talked much about the situation, Buckingham said, she had the impression that Davey was learning to enjoy his retirement.
“He seemed content to me and was just learning to live with this new way of being,” she said.
Davey is survived by his wife Julie Fox and his son Cisco.
A memorial and sendoff will be held at the Elks Lodge on Saturday, Dec. 9, from noon to 2 p.m.
Former reporter, economic development specialist “always helped just to help, because it was the right thing to do”