Guardian ad Litem Howard Davenport ‘Retires' After 27 Years
by Sherrie Norris
As most likely the longest serving guardian ad litem volunteer in North Carolina, Davenport has taken his last trip to court on behalf of the more than 100 abused or neglected children for which he's represented in Western North Carolina.
The 87-year-old former executive made the decision recently to retire again, this time from perhaps his favorite “job” as advocate to children who had no one else to speak on their behalf.
Davenport was honored on Thursday at a luncheon in Boone, hosted by the 24th Judicial District office of the Guardian ad Litem Program and the program's regional administrator Geoff Farmer, district administrator John Lewis and local program supervisor Valerie Daniels.
Having “lost count” of the exact number of cases he's represented, Davenport was the first GAL volunteer in McDowell County when the program was formed there in the mid-1980s.
He also served on the GAL advisory board in Raleigh for two years.
“I know he was already here in Watauga County when I came to the district for my second interview for this job in 1994,” said Lewis during Thursday's celebration. “He was among those, including the judicial officials, who interviewed me.”
Davenport has witnessed many changes within the system since joined the program and as it grew to be what it is today.
Despite not always agreeing with decisions that were made from the bench “in the best interest of the children,” Davenport was known for remaining steadfast in his commitment to speak on behalf of abused and neglected children.
At the same time, said Farmer, he earned and maintained the respect of judges, attorneys, other court officials, GAL staff and other affiliates from social services, schools, the medical professionals involved and many others — and most importantly, the children and their families.
One case in particular stayed near and dear to Davenport's life and heart for more than eight years. The child to whom he was assigned was in an extended period of trauma. It mattered not to Davenport when she was placed in locations as far away as Jacksonville — he made the seven-hour drive to visit her more than once. He remained involved in her case until she recently turned 18 and “aged out” of the foster care system.
“Howard has a quiet, gentle nature and knew how to work behind the scenes (networking and building personal relationships), as well as in the courtroom to effect positive change for children's lives,” said Daniels. “He often spoke at GAL training for new GAL volunteers about the challenges and rewards of being a volunteer and he often walked potential volunteers through conducting an investigation and working a case. After new volunteers were sworn in and working cases, they would often quote things they had learned from Howard in training.”
It's not unusual, Daniels said, for other volunteers to strive to “be like Howard.” “He set the bar high for the caliber of GAL Volunteer we need to recruit and train,” she said, “not only in Watauga County, but throughout the 24th Judicial District and the entire state.”
Davenport's concern for the children was always evident in the thorough investigations, court reports and testimony he gave to each and every case, Daniels said. “Howard was always professional and thorough with everyone he came into contact with. Some of the old-time logs in his file showed where he spent upwards of 50 hours a month on certain cases.”
During Thursday's gathering, the GAL representatives drew laughter as they recounted situations in which Davenport brought notes to court on ways in which the system could be improved — and wasn't afraid to express those feelings.
“He always did it in a respectful, dignified manner,” Lewis said.
“Howard was not arrogant,” Daniels added.
Lewis likened him to a father, having taught him “life lessons” which he appreciates and uses — both personally and professionally. “He taught me that it's ok if all people don't like me or agree with me all the time,” Lewis said. “He taught me and a lot of other people that people need a friend, not a judge.”
“This is my first time to attend a GAL retirement party,” said Farmer, who referred to Davenport as a “legend” among the GAL volunteers and presented him a letter of appreciation from the state office of the GAL program.
“Howard has been our role model,” said Joan Hearn, who, along with her husband, Dick Hearn, has worked closely with Davenport as volunteers.
“He showed us how it was done and was always relentless in his efforts to get children the best results possible. He never gave up,” she said.
On the way to Boone
Davenport attended Long Beach City College in California, served with the U.S. Navy during Word War II as a Sea Bee, stationed in the South Pacific and in Point Barrow, Ark.
He worked for Douglas Aircraft for more than 15 years at various management positions in California and in Charlotte.
He and his wife moved to Boone in the mid-1960s, where he worked in management at IRC for 10 years, then became a management consultant.
He served on the Watauga County Children's Council as treasurer and board member and was a faithful Hospice of Watauga County volunteer for 18 years during which he was a member of both the advisory board and the foundation. He has also been a long-time member of the Boone Kiwanis Club.
Davenport was married to Katherine O'Brien Davenport for 50 years, until her death in 2003. He has one daughter, Karen Auton, who with her husband, Bob Auton, lives in Boone and has blessed him with two grandchildren, Brian and Lauren.
Davenport admitted that he will miss his many contacts that he's made through GAL, but plans to keep busy reading and watching documentaries, hiking, working in the yard and painting.