By Henry Lane Hull
In 1066 William Duke of Normandy left France, crossed the English Channel then proceeded to conquer England. Perhaps that statement might seem to be an odd way to begin describing the life of Peggy Davis, but his act had great influence on a significant part of the life she led.
William introduced Norman traditions and practices to England, which included the establishment of a wide variety of political offices, one of which ultimately came to be known as that of mayor.
In the middle ages and early modern times, when the mayors were men, an unofficial but highly important role emerged for the wife of the mayor, and a new title emerged with it, that of mayoress.
Today when we have lady mayors the term has been broadened, I think incorrectly, to be used for a lady mayor, but its historical usage is for the wife of the mayor. I do not know what the politically correct word is for the husband of a lady mayor. The original terminology came with the colonists to the new world and obviously continues to this day.
In 1978 when Peggy’s husband, Edward J., was elected mayor of Kilmarnock after serving 20 years on the town council, Peggy assumed the unelected, but extraordinarily important, role of mayoress, serving with him through his six terms, a total of 24 years, the longest tenure of any of Kilmarnock’s mayors, presiding over the non-governmental aspects of the town’s path towards greater achievements. In that role Peggy exuded a level of dignity and gentility that complemented Edward J. in every respect.
After Edward J.’s first election as mayor I told Peggy that henceforth she would be “the mayoress,” and she chuckled, but it is how I think of her, and how our family refers to her. When the B.E.s were small, and we would pass her driving on the road, they would not say, “there goes Mrs. Davis,” or “there goes Miss Peggy,” but rather, “there goes the mayoress.”
The mayoress, our mayoress, was a woman of astounding presence. To know her was to be struck by her enormous talent, kindness and generosity, and most of all by her deep and abiding faith in God.
As mayoress Peggy found her niche in bringing people together, teaching them by her example and serving as a model of dignity, refinement and charity. I recall being present when Governor Allen came for an official visit to Kilmarnock at a time when the mayoress was recovering from foot surgery. She not only came to the event, but truly made the occasion memorable by the warm welcome she put forth for the governor and his party. For her, nothing was too much trouble, or too difficult.
Each yuletide a part of the local Christmas tradition was hearing Peggy singing “Happy Holidays” on the radio. She had a magnificent singing voice, and her radio blip might have been an advertisement for their family car dealership, but much more it was her way of wanting everyone to know of her good wishes for the season.
Nine years ago when Edward J. died, the mayoress began a new phase of her life without him by her side. She found her solace in continuing to do the manifold good deeds that had characterized her entire life, and she lived on knowing that she, and everyone else, has a purpose, which we all must come to know and to follow.
Thinking of the mayoress brings to mind the ancient admonition: “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and wrong.”
Those words genuinely apply to the manner in which Peggy Davis lived her life.
Kilmarnock and the world at large are far better today for her having passed her nine decades in our midst.
Peggy George Davis, January 19, 1928 – July 23, 2019. Mayoress of Kilmarnock, 1978 – 2002. R.I.P.