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Memories abound for fire victim

  • Written by Wiley Henry

firevictim 600The sentiments were pretty much the same: LeRoy Davis was quick-witted, brazen, a unique character, a good person and loved his church.

"We were tight; we did so much together. You couldn't help but love him," said Dora Chambers, recounting fond memories of her brother at a memorial service for him on Saturday (Feb. 1) at Dave Wells Community Center in North Memphis.

Davis died the afternoon of Jan. 24 in the home at 1051 Morehead St., which he shared with his mother, Katherine Tatum. Dense smoke and flames trapped him inside. Davis was the oldest of Tatum's eight children. He was 62.

The fire fatality was the third this year. The Shelby County Medical Examiner's report still was pending at TSD press time, said Lt. Wayne Cooke of the Memphis Fire Department.

Those who reflected upon Davis's life chose to remember him for what he'd meant to them.

"I loved LeRoy. He was such a nice person," said Chambers, struggling to compose herself before a gathering of 125 people. Others were forthcoming as well, noting that the friendship that they'd forged would continue until "we see him again."

Bishop Edward H. Stephens Jr., pastor of Golden Gate Cathedral, where several in the Tatum family have been longtime members, petitioned the un-churched to consider a Christian lifestyle.

"It's a real tragedy when you don't have God in your life," he said. To the bereaved family, he added: "You're going to have to lean on Christ for stability...listen to Christ for direction, and look to Him for security."

The Rev. George Matthews, pastor of Friendly Baptist Church and Davis's eulogist, said, "Death is not the whole book of life; it's just a chapter in the book. ...None of us have a deed on life. We don't know how we're going to leave."

Nathaniel Davis made the trip from Omaha, Neb., to attend his father's memorial service and to kindle a relationship with the paternal side of his family. He made the trek with his wife Rochelle and their two children: Nyigel Smith, 4, and Rainah Smith, 5.

Davis had a favorite saying, his son said. "He had a little cell phone and he'd call me regularly, saying, 'What you doing turkey? Let me hold two dollars.'"

Only God knows...

On the eve of the memorial service, Tatum said her son's death still baffles her.

"God only knows how and why," she said. "I don't question God. I could have been trapped in there with him."

Tatum has lived on Morehead since 1969. After high school graduation, her son moved to Gary, Ind., and then settled in Omaha before moving back to Memphis more than a decade ago. His body was discovered in the badly charred rear bedroom – an addition to the house.

Tatum recalls leaving the house to go to the neighborhood store for ice cream while her son lay asleep. When she returned, he was still asleep. "I didn't wake him," said Tatum, choosing at that time to retreat to the living room.

About 20 minutes later, Tatum heard her son's frantic voice "asking me to come get him." By that time, fire was cascading from the ceiling, she said, and thick smoke was billowing. Tatum managed to escape; Davis was trapped.

"LeRoy wasn't in the best of health," said Sandra Tatum, noting that her brother had suffered a stroke and was having problems with one of his legs. "A neighbor tried to rescue him, but the flames and smoke were too intense."

"I'm sorry he had to go like that," said Katherine Tatum. "He was a good person. He would play with the children all the time and he would go to church just about every Sunday. But God doesn't do anything wrong.

"It's just a mystery to me," she said.

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