Couple's calling rooted in history

Clark and Linda Davis help coordinate dozens of Mormon missionaries. It's natural for them - their ancestors were part of the original westward trek.

St. Petersburg Times/September 10, 2006
By Sheryl Kay

Carrollwood - The phone rings, and the caller's voice sounds panicked.

It's a young man stuck at an airport. New travel restrictions have made it impossible for him make a connecting flight without a visa to the country he'll enter on the way to his destination.

On the other end of the phone, Clark Davis is calm and comforting, assuring the young man that he'll make sure the trip is rerouted, and all will be well.

Taking calls from young missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints is all in a day's work for Davis, 64, the new president of the Florida Tampa Mission in Carrollwood.

Davis, a retired college professor, and his wife, Linda, 64, help coordinate the day-to-day activities of more than 140 missionaries.

"We're responsible for their physical and mental well-being while they serve their two years here," said Davis. "We help them find housing, look after their health care needs, assist them in their duties to preach the Gospel, and yes, sometimes we help with travel arrangements."

Davis was an active member of the LDS Church, also known as the Mormons, back in Chico, Calif., where he lived for 36 years with his wife and six children before moving to Tampa. Over the years he has served as a bishop, stake president and a regional representative in the church. When he retired in 2004, he and Mrs. Davis put in an application to serve as senior missionaries in the field. They were prepared to serve in that capacity until a call came from Salt Lake City, the church headquarters.

"You don't apply for this position," Davis said. "It's a calling to serve."

Unlike many practicing Mormons, who have converted to the faith, both Davis and his wife were raised in the church and trace their family roots back to the church's original members.

The Davises were fortunate in that a great deal of their genealogical research had been done by relatives and passed down through the generations. Mrs. Davis has some scattered information that goes all the way back to the 1400s, and firm documentation leading back to the mid 1800s.

"I know all eight sets of my great-grandparents who traveled west from New York to reach Salt Lake," said Mrs. Davis. "Many of them walked across the plains and pushed handcarts instead of riding those wagons."

She learned that her great-great-grandfather, Thomas Moulton, joined a trek in the 1860s that left too late in the season. "Five hundred saints were in that company, and they got stranded in the snow," she said. "One in 10 died."

Another great-great-grandfather, John Tippets, traveled to Salt Lake in the same company as Brigham Young, second president of the church and successor to the founder, Joseph Smith.

On Mr. Davis' side, 10 direct ancestors also traveled across the country with push carts.

"Yes, it was difficult," he said. "They did it because they were taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they wanted to be with the saints, so the trip to Salt Lake was a great honor for them even if it was hard."

In their own way, the Davises also have put aside hardships. They left 12 grandchildren behind in California in order to fulfill their religious calling here in Tampa.

They are not exactly sure what they will do when this three-year assignment concludes.

"We'll resume our lives as retired grandparents and probably spend a lot more time on researching our genealogy, which we've been wanting to do, but just haven't had enough time for," Mr. Davis said.

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