STEVENSON, Ala., — Standing on his front porch, Jim Davis greets a visitor to his home, which sits on the corner of Second Street and Broad Street.
He’s been here more than 35 years, he says. A construction man, now 73, Davis says he built the home himself, along with family.
A sign outside the house reads, “Mama’s Place.” He put it there while his wife Patsy sat watching soon after the home was built.
It’s still “Mama’s Place,” Davis says. To one side of the house a sign reads, “Let Patsy Rest in Peace.” To the other side, Patsy Davis is buried.
And so the story begins.
Actually it begins in Dayton, Tenn. where Davis first met his future wife, Patsy. He was 11 and she was 7.
“Me and her brothers rode stick horses,” he says. “She was just a snotty little girl in the way.”
That changed a few years later. Davis went into the Marine Corps, then began a career in construction. One day he and his mother went into town.
“I saw this girl up the street, and just fell in love,” Davis remembers.
His mother told him a girl like that wasn’t fool enough to be with him.
He countered to his mother, “one day she will be your daughter-in-law.”
Their first date was to a strawberry festival.
“The first date was all we needed,” Davis said.
Eighteen months later, they were married. They had five children in the next seven years.
There were some, he says, that said the marriage wouldn’t last two weeks.
“Me and that little lady lived 48 years, one month and four days together,” he adds. “I could’ve stood that many more.”
The last day was April 19, 2009, the day Patsy passed away after being ill for several years.
“She was the most wonderful person on Earth,” Davis says. “She found good in everybody.”
His love remains strong.
Patsy wanted to be buried on the family property. Davis wanted to make his late wife’s wish come true.
And a three-year battle between Davis and the city of Stevenson has followed.
It came to a head in late March, following a civil trial, when Jackson County Circuit Judge Jenifer Holt ordered Davis to remove his late wife’s remains from the front yard.
In a court order, Holt said the city had the power and authority to grant or deny an application for permission to establish a private cemetery. She also said the city properly exercised its power and authority when it denied Davis’s application for a license to establish a private cemetery.
Davis argued during the trial that the city of Stevenson did not follow proper procedure when denying his application for the cemetery and acted unreasonably, arbitrarily and capriciously.
According to court documents, the Jackson County Health Department, in April 2009, approved the establishment of the cemetery on the Davis property from a sanitary standpoint.
A month later, the Stevenson City Council voted to deny Davis’s application, citing concerns of the perpetual care of the cemetery, location and size of the small lot, impact of the cemetery on property values and citizens’ complaints with the location of the cemetery. There were also concerns about future liablity of the city to maintain the cemetery.
Stevenson Mayor Rickey Steele testified that Davis failed to alleviate any of the council’s concerns. The council voted to deny Davis’s application on May 14, 2009. Nine days later, Davis buried his wife on the property.
Holt gave Davis 30 days to remove his late wife’s remains, or file an appeal. He appealed.
“I’m not much for giving up,” he says.
Davis and his attorney claim a mistake in the law by both parties and the court in the first trial.
In a motion filed in circuit court, Davis’s attorney, Timothy Pittman of Huntsville, said a cemetery doesn’t include a family burial plot.
“A family burial plot is nothing more than an easement that can be created by the fee simple owner of the property,” Pittman writes.
Pittman argues that no statute which regulates or limits the location of “family burial plots” in the state of Alabama, except presumably those which regulate the creation of property easements.
“There is no law of property easements that would prevent the easement of Davis’s ‘family burial plot,’ but in fairness, this issue was previously unknown to the city and the court, and has not been formally addressed by either,” Pittman wrote.
Stevenson city attorney Parker Edmiston declined comment, saying “we have no comment at this time on pending litigation.”
At his age, Davis remains a strong man, with a firm handshake. Prior to his visitor’s arrival, he had just finished mowing his yard. He’s a fighter who plans on not quitting.
“They been fighting me for three years,” he says of the city of Stevenson. “I’ve lived in this town for 42 years, and for 39 years nobody knew who we were.”
They do now, though, literally across the country. At the Jackson County Courthouse parking lot, Davis pulled up a truck days after Holt’s ruling. A sign in the back of the truck reads, “Let Patsy Rest in Peace.”
“I’ve dedicated my whole life to protecting my property and my wife’s gravesite,” he says.
When asked if, when all is said and done, he is ordered to remove Patsy’s grave from the front yard, Davis says that won’t happen.
“I don’t worry about it,” he adds.
Holt has set a hearing for June 27 on Davis’s motion to overturn the order. And so the story continues.