McAdams On: TV People

HEART -- “It’s just TV,” Andy says when we start taking the business too seriously. But it’s more. It’s people—visionary, stubborn, misguided, brilliant, fallible, manipulative, guileless, sincere, creative and mercurial. The technical side of TV is a close community, such that those who don’t yet know one another typically know of one another. I knew of Preston Davis. Almost everyone on the technology side did. I knew of him, but did not know him. Yet he has touched my life.

In 1976, when Davis joined ABC as an engineer in Washington, D.C., I was a freshman at Cozad Junior High. I could not in my wildest dreams have imagined becoming an engineer. I could barely muster dreams of any kind, what with the Depression Era, deprivation mindset of my household. I’ve written this before, and it remains true. What I knew of possibility came from watching TV. That certainly wasn’t ideal, but in the absence of mentors, examples and precedents, TV was my lifeline to a world beyond a small dirt farm at the end of the pavement where my potential was predetermined by my gender. It was limited, to say the least.

So when Andy says, “It’s just TV,” I smile a bit inside, because I know what he means, but I also know there’s more. And when the various industries and lobbies trying to destroy broadcasting deem it obsolete, I fight back. This has always been a bit personal. As well, I cannot fathom being the lone person whose life was made larger by TV signals reaching into places where no other business would bother.

Granted, I’ve done nothing the world can’t do without, but I think there are a few people who appreciate that I was able to leave the farm and wander. And maybe one of them will do something the world can’t live without and I can carry their water. I think more often than not, we’re not privy to the most important thing we ever do. My impression of Preston Davis, from the people who did know him, was that his greatest influence was not so much the work he did, but the way he conducted himself.

I wrote a sort of obituary for Mr. Davis this week. Writing obituaries is typically one of the first assignments a reporter is given, and one of the most contrary imaginable for an introvert. People must be rousted in the midst of their grief, or anger, or whatever they may be going through—and plumbed for comments. Most who contribute are far-enough removed to provide composed and courteous responses. Very rarely will people talk openly through unrestrained tears. I believe it speaks well of a person when their friends and colleagues want to eulogize them that adamantly. This was the case with Mr. Davis.

What came through most clearly is that he was a person of profound kindness, humility and rectitude, who treated others with dignity regardless of their station in life, and who worked diligently to care for and protect those for whom he was responsible in the workplace and elsewhere.

There are a lot of good people in the world, but not so many great ones, as measured not by their accomplishments—and Mr. Davis’s were many—but by their deeply conscious humanity. Based on the comments of those who knew him, Mr. Davis appears to have been a great man.

I am sorry to those who knew him, for the irretrievable loss of their beloved friend and colleague. I am sorrier still to those of us who did not have the opportunity to know this man and learn from his example. May he be illumined in the stars.

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home.” ~ William Wordsworth