By Mike Linn
Frank Davis went from grade-school dropout to successful businessman to worthy of an appearance on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.”
And while his $360,200 purchase of Leno’s celebrity-autographed Harley Davidson motorcycle in 2001 caught the attention of millions, it was his gentle kindness and zest for life that won the hearts of family and friends.
Davis, a Portales water well driller, and two other Portales men were on Ute Lake near Logan on Thursday night when their boat ran aground on a sandbar.
Davis, 39, Sam Sanchez, 47, and Jimmy Park tried to swim an estimated 150 yards to shore, officials said. Only Park survived.
Friends said Sanchez and Park both worked for Davis.
Sanchez is not listed in the Portales telephone directory and his family could not be reached. A friend said Sanchez had lived in Portales since 1998.
A woman who answered the phone at Park’s home referred questions to state police.
Davis’ family was emotional in brief interviews.
“There’s really no words to explain how great he was,” said Lacey Davis, his 19-year-old and youngest daughter. “He’s been my foundation all my life: If I ever needed anything out of reach all I had to do was go to my dad.
“This is all so unbelievable to me because in my eyes he was invincible.”
Davis, who owned Davis Pump in Portales, chose a career as a water well driller, following in the path of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Frank’s brother James Davis said his family grew up working in the oil fields, and he remembers one day he and Frank were attempting to make primer cord, a detonator for dynamite, explode by throwing hammers at it.
Luckily, the cord didn’t explode, James said, but the memory of that day acts as a reminder of Frank’s light-hearted persona.
“Frank was extremely likable, laid-back and easy going,” James said. “The buddies who knew him will miss him greatly.”
James said his brother dropped out of school after the sixth grade, but was still able to be successful in his career.
Ron Dixon said he met Frank about 18 years ago through business and spent time with him at the race track at Ned Houk Park in Clovis.
Dixon agreed with the assessment that Frank was a likable guy, but added that he was also low key and somewhat quiet.
“He was really nice and likable, a super-nice guy — I don’t know any other way to put it,” Dixon said. “He wasn’t somebody who stood out in the crowd necessarily, but he was always helpful, had a heart of gold.”
Daughter Lacey said she remembers a long car ride with her father about three months ago, when he explained some of the history of Portales.
“That was a special day,” Lacey said.
In 2001, Frank told the Portales News-Tribune he purchased Leno’s Harley because he knew the money would go to help the victims of 9/11, adding credence to Dixon’s assessment of Frank always being helpful to others.
“I think about 5,000 people dying … If there’s anytime Americans ought to feel something, it’s now,” Davis told the News-Tribune in 2001. “I just want to help any way I can.”
Funeral services for Davis and Sanchez are pending with Wheeler Mortuary in Portales.