James B. Davis, 72, maitre d' at hotels, clubs in Baltimore

December 07, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

James B. Davis Jr., a retired maitre d' who, during his four-decade career, worked in some of the finest hotels and clubs in Baltimore, died Wednesday of respiratory failure at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 72 and lived in Ednor Gardens.

Mr. Davis, who stood 6-feet-5-inches, was a commanding and understanding presence, whether he was watching over the old Fallstaff Room in the Belvedere Hotel or reassuring a nervous mother that her daughter's wedding reception at the Baltimore Country Club would go off without a hitch.

Mr. Davis' daily working attire consisted of a tuxedo, hand-tied black bow tie and carefully starched white shirt with studs.

"He was always impeccably dressed right down to his custom-made shoes," said his son, James B. Davis III of Ednor Gardens.

"I used to work with my father, and his motto was about this work, 'Never let 'em see you sweat.' He continually stressed that everything had to be of the utmost quality and close to perfection," his son said.

With almost military precision, Mr. Davis easily commanded waiters and bartenders in the performance of their duties as well as seeing to the desires and whims of guests -- always executed with a polite demeanor and, most of all, a smile.

" 'Treat people with the same amount of respect that you'd want to be treated with,' was something he would often say," his son said.

"He was a hard-working, jolly fellow who was polite and had a good memory, traits that a good waiter, bartender or maitre d' needs to have in this business," said John Resuing, of Rosedale, a friend of 40 years.

"He was on the job minute by minute and a gentleman all the way," said Mr. Reusing, who got to know Mr. Davis when the two worked at the Belvedere Hotel.

Said Sam Bates, manager of Perring Place Restaurant, "He was like a little touch of the old times -- kind, gentle and thoughtful. He knew a lot of people, and they loved him."

Mr. Bates said he admired Mr. Davis' vast knowledge of the restaurant business and his ability to work with not only his employees but his customers.

"He was like a father figure and had a gift for getting along with people," Mr. Bates said.

Mr. Davis, who was called Davis or Jim by his legion of friends and customers, was born in Newport News, Va. After graduating from Isle of Wight Training School in Smithfield, Va., in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Theater of operations in World War II.

After being honorably discharged at war's end, Mr. Davis began studies at Howard University in Washington. While attending school, Mr. Davis began working part time at the famed Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and later at the Williamsburg Inn.

He finally abandoned his college studies to work full time in the hotel and restaurant business.

"Mr. Fox, who was general manager of all Sheraton Corp. hotels, discovered Jimmy working in Virginia and brought him to the Belvedere and put him on," Mr. Reusing said.

"Mr. Fox lived on Gibson Island, and one day they fired the manager of the club there. So, he called up Jimmy and put him in charge of running the Gibson Island Club for six months or so until they hired another permanent manager. It just goes to show you how good he was."

In 1960, Mr. Davis was appointed food service manager at the Baltimore Country Club, where he oversaw the operations of the dining rooms at the Roland Park clubhouse and at Five Farms in Timonium.

In 1978, he went to work in Timonium at Shane's, opened by Peter Angelos. From 1980 to 1985, he was maitre d' at the Center Club in downtown Baltimore and later at the Bonnie View Country Club until 1990. He retired in 1991 from the Sparrows Point Country Club.

Mr. Davis enjoyed swimming and watching sporting events.

He was a communicant of St. James Episcopal Church, Lafayette and Arlington avenues, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow.

He is also survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Eula Ellis; a daughter, Jamie Lyn Davis-Jenifer of Ednor Gardens; and three grandchildren.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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