Mapping Georgetown: He Had a Giving Heart and We Loved Him
By October 17, 2022 One Comment 1417•
Those of us who’d stroll by 31st and M Streets and didn’t notice anything or anyone in particular, missed out. Sometimes, the best things in life are all around us…
Everyone in Georgetown — even those we may overlook — is special. If you didn’t know Johnny Davenport by name, chances are, as you’re reading this, you’re saying, “I know him!” And Mr. Davenport had so much to give to everyone he encountered.
Deepest gratitude to Johnny Davenport’s friends — John Pittman, Dave Statter and Hillary Howard — for sharing Mr. Davenport’s story with us. Now we better understand the priceless gifts he shared with all of you.
Hillary Howard’s Mapping Georgetown Story about Johnny Davenport
Johnny was always easy to spot. He was usually at the corner of 31st and M Streets next to Potomac Wine and Spirits – One door down from Mr. Smith’s – the old one. He got there late in the afternoon and sat for hours in an industrial size wheel chair – with a neon orange flag flapping above his electric ride.
Even though he had so little, and accepted money in the yellow bucket on his chair – he sponsored a needy child somewhere. He had a giving heart and we loved him.
He came to our wedding, shared a birthday with our son and memories of his mom.
But sometimes understanding him was tough. The cerebral palsy that gnarled his hands affected his speech. It was ok. He was always happy to start over. One syllable at a time.
Countless people remember Johnny. Some were friends who pitched in – others only knew him by sight. If they had stopped to talk, Johnny would have changed them. He was a beautiful human and we miss him.
~ Hillary Howard
John Pitman’s Mapping Georgetown Story about John Davenport
It is too easy to think of Washington DC as just a haven for the high and mighty power brokers. But there is so much more depth to its life and one of those aspects was John Davenport.
The volume of a complete life is measured by the values and dignified stature of the individuals you meet. John Jerome Davenport was one of those individuals.
To begin, I married a published biologist, Dr. Stefanie Fuhrman, in 2007. She went to Georgetown University for her graduate work and was there for seven years. She told me that in her walks around Georgetown she remembered often seeing a man in a power wheelchair sitting near Wisconsin and M. When she said that, I told her, “Little did you know THEN that one day that man would be at your own wedding!” It’s true! She laughed. Yup, life’s peculiar intersections.
I first met John, whose condition was severe cerebral palsy, when I was a wheelchair tech for Pledge Medical on Fairmont Ave in Bethesda. One day in 1979 or ’80 a car pulled up to the shop door; several men got out, opened the trunk, pulled out the pieces to–in today’s terms–a primitive power wheelchair. They assembled it, rolled it to the car door, helped John slither onto it, and rolled it into the shop for me to determine why it wasn’t running. All the while, I marveled at their conversations with him because I…could…not…understand…one…single…word John was saying. I was stunned. As the years progressed, however, I began to discern more and more what he was trying to utter and communicate. For instance, he told me one day, “Eye a uh uh-ee.” “Eye a uh uh-ee.” I stopped what I was doing to figure it out and he tried saying it many more times. Finally when he sensed my continued befuddlement, John straightened his body and let out an “Arf, arf, arf!”. Ohhhhhh…..”I have a puppy!” Going back to that first day, John told me many years later that he could remember everything about that first day–he had to develop a keen memory since he could not read well and obviously could not write. According to him I was drinking a Pepsi that day. I discovered ultimately that if I could discern a direction his subject was heading, I could fill in the blanks and understand what he was saying. There were, for me anyway, a ton of mental gymnastics involved….
Baseball star Hank Aaron said that he just kept swinging his bat. If he was having a bad day, things weren’t going well on the field, or whatever, he just kept swinging the bat. John Davenport himself kept swinging the bat. I developed an affinity for John because of the struggles he went through daily and that he just kept going despite the hardships his condition placed upon him. One of the main things he taught me through the years was simple perseverance. He kept swinging his bat. I have mourned John Davenport’s passing more than any non-family member and I shall miss his presence in my life profoundly. He enriched my own life beyond measure.79 years as of last Nov. 30th and he wasn’t expected to live beyond 10 or 12. That’s lots of gravy, albeit gravy with a lot of lumps. And most of that life on the street. He told me a few years ago after giving me a litany of bad things happening to him, “When all is said and done, I have lived a happy life.” And his last words to me upon my departing his apartment 10 days before Christmas: “Say hi to Stefanie [my wife].” That’s all one needs to know about John Davenport: his character and his courtesy. Yours, John Pitman
Dave Statter’s Mapping Georgetown Story about John Davenport
Many of your readers will likely know of John Davenport, even if they don’t know his name. John, who was born with muscular dystrophy, was a fixture at the corner of 31st and M and a few other Georgetown street corners for more than a half-century. John, who lived at Price House, 13th and Belmont NW, died just before Christmas at age 79.
Unable to find work because of his severe disability, John would sit quietly on the street corner with a boom box attached to his wheel chair by bungee cords, and people would give him money. He never begged or caused problems. In fact, he was often preyed upon by others on the street. John was robbed multiple times, including one Halloween evening when he fought back and was stabbed in the hand.
Through the years he made lots of friends. The late jazz singer Shirley Horn would invite John to her sets at Blues Alley. I first noticed John as a teenager when seeing my uncle, Sam Levy, a Georgetown businessman, give him money.
John would go everywhere in his electric wheelchair. Riding down sidewalks and busy DC streets. Despite his limited mobility and difficulty speaking, he was very independent. It was an enormous struggle but he was always able to feed and house himself.
~ Dave Statter
To learn more about the Mapping Georgetown project see https://georgetowner.com/articles/2021/07/19/marilyn–butlers-vision-for-mapping-georgetown/.
To submit your Georgetown recollections to Mapping Georgetown go to www.mappinggeorgetown.com or visit the Georgetown Public Library to pick up a physical map-story form to fill out.
Marilyn Butler can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.