Champion McDowell Davis was born in Catawba County near Hickory, North Carolina, on July 1, 1879, and moved to Wilmington as a child. He enlisted as a private in the old Wilmington Light Infantry at the outbreak of the Spanish‐American War.
In 1957, Davis walked out of the headquarters of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad for the last time. “Mr. Coastline” was a legend, rising from messenger boy to president and devoting himself to the railroad and railroad employees for decades. During his tenure as president, he oversaw the railroad’s switch to an all-diesel system, significantly improved railroad safety, increased rail speed for passenger trains from 60 to 90 miles an hour and made swift travel from Miami to New York possible, ensuring that both passengers and fresh fruit arrived at their destination within 24 hours.
Davis didn’t want to spend his remaining years on his Porters Neck porch overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. He had bigger plans in mind. As a lifelong bachelor, he wondered how elderly people fared if they had no family or money in their later years. He had once served on an Episcopal committee formed to explore the feasibility of establishing a nursing home in the Wilmington area. There he learned about the extreme need, as well as the vast expense, of such an enterprise. He could not stop thinking of the many railroad employees who couldn’t rely on family for compassionate care. He had the land. He had money to invest. He had keen business sense and influential friends throughout the county. And most of all, he had a clear vision. What Wilmington needed was a nursing home, “as modern as the day after tomorrow.”
By 1963, Davis had gathered trusted friends, including Dr. R. T. Sinclair and attorney Cyrus Hogue, to help him put his vision into action. The Champion McDowell Davis Foundation was established to support the development and ongoing needs of the nursing home named for Davis’ mother, Cornelia Nixon Davis. His family land and significant personal funds helped form one of the largest private foundations in the Wilmington, North Carolina, area.
On July 1, 1966, Davis’ 87th birthday, the Cornelia Nixon Davis Nursing Home opened with great fanfare and began its legacy of caring in the Wilmington community.