Friday, January 19, 2018
Education

St. Petersburg High to dedicate building to Vyrle Davis

Before a graduation ceremony during his time as principal, someone scrawled the n-word across the football field. "You just come on," Vyrle Davis told the racist callers who rang his phone late into the night. "I'll be there."

Davis, as the principal of St. Petersburg High School and later the first black area superintendent of Pinellas County schools, was there for all his students until he died in February. He was 76.

On Friday, St. Petersburg High School will dedicate its media building to Davis. The ceremony is to begin with a reception at 5 p.m. in the cafeteria. The public is invited.

Davis began teaching at 16th Street Elementary and Junior High in 1960, selling his wife's chicken sandwiches to raise money for students' pencils and paper. He taught Urban League president Watson Haynes and state Rep. Darryl Rouson.

At St. Petersburg High, his students included former Gov. Charlie Crist and current principal Al Bennett.

"He knew you by name and what your niche was in the school," Bennett remembers. "He was on top of everything and cared so much about St. Petersburg High School."

Bill Grey, who succeeded Davis as principal of the school, emailed Bennett after Davis' death about getting a building named for the man who had done so much for the community.

In 1984, Davis started a scholarship program that provided more than $500,000 for high-achieving black students. He retired in 1995. Around 2004, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. But he continued to teach, advising new principals and candidates for public office.

Bennett saw Grey's email. He thought it was a great idea.

Times files were used in this story. Lisa Gartner can be reached at [email protected] Follow her @lisagartner on Twitter.

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