Ramona Davis spent much of the past five years walking door-to-door in downtown Zebulon, pitching ideas to business owners in a polite but determined tone on ways they, or she, could make their property look better.
Sprucing things up was one way the chair of the Zebulon Beautification Committee thought the town could breathe new life into its sleepy core district. She also tried tirelessly to unite the downtown merchants in hopes they would take such matters into their own hands, at a time when she didn’t own a business in area.
“I think Ramona was an example to others in wanting to see Zebulon improve,” said Mayor Bob Matheny, Davis’ nephew by marriage. “We as a town government are trying to generate that citizen engagement and downtown development. She was very passionate about it, and was willing to throw herself into it and not just give lip service to it.”
Davis died Monday morning after dealing with heart complications. She was 86.
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She never got to see some of the things she pushed for materialize – like an arts center in downtown. The beautification committee disbanded in May, 2014, after four years of trying to shepherd a downtown merchant’s association failed to produce desired results.
But Davis’ vision lives on. Local civic groups, and new leadership at the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce and at town hall have shown an eagerness as recently as the past few months in revitalizing downtown.
Turning up rocks
Patricia Roberson said there’s no end to the things her longtime friend would have gotten done in downtown, if she only had more time.
“If she would’ve been a little younger, she would have been dangerous,” Roberson said. “She lived, ate and slept thinking about downtown Zebulon. She never gave up on downtown Zebulon. It was only due to her declining health that she was less visible in downtown.”
Davis and five others, including Roberson, gained approval from the town board to form the beautification committee in April, 2010.
Early on, the group convinced downtown businesses to make small, but significant, improvements to their buildings.
The committee members took on special beautification projects using a mix of donated funding and, at times, money out of their own pockets. They commonly asked businesses to decorate their storefronts for the holidays, but would provide and install decorations where requested.
Seeing Roberson and Jenny Privette follow Davis up and down North Arendell Avenue became a common sight during the committee’s existence.
“She was the person who never stopped turning up rocks,” Roberson said. “She was pushing herself and at the same time she was pushing Jenny and me. I’ve never met someone so determined. She was the heartbeat of downtown Zebulon. She made a difference in downtown Zebulon, and she was not finished.”
The committee also organized two Christmas promotions that filled downtown Zebulon with carolers and other performing groups, drawing customers to local businesses.
On the day the beautification committee let up, Davis said she considered its involvement in the town’s pursuit of a downtown overlay district its greatest feat. She said getting the town to landscape and add signage near the railroad tracks on Arendell Avenue was the group’s second-best accomplishment.
Davis outlived her husband, war hero and Zebulon leader Barrie Davis, by nearly a year and a half.
Between the two, they owned the Eastern Wake News’ ancestral papers for about 15 years, until 1982.
Ramona Davis was editor of the Gold Leaf Farmer when Kenneth Wilson distributed his ownership share of Gold Leaf Publishers to her, propelling her into the company’s president seat.
She was a dedicated member of Zebulon Baptist Church and a past president of the Zebulon Rotary Club. Along with her late husband, she spent countless hours cleaning local streets and parking lots and organized clean sweep campaigns. She also led blood drives at the Zebulon Woman’s Club, where she was also a longtime member.
In 2004, Davis was named Citizen of the Year by the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce. In accepting the award, she turned the spotlight on others.
“The credit for whatever I have accomplished in the past or may accomplish in the future goes to all those who have supported me in my many endeavors – Barrie, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my Rotary Club and Woman’s Club and several others,“ she said.
Davis is survived by seven children, 11 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Her funeral services was held Wednesday morning at Zebulon Baptist.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Zebulon Baptist Church Unified Budget, the Zebulon Boys and Girls Club or the Zebulon Rotary Club.