James Dewey: The Legacy of a Name

My brother James Lester Davis was born just before my 5th birthday. He was named for a paternal great-grandfather, James Davis, and our paternal grandfather, Lester Davis. At some point in his growing up years our mother told him that she had wanted to name him James Dewey, Dewey being her father’s middle name, and the one by which he was mostly called. Sometime in the 80s or 90s my brother passed this information on to me, and having already decided for many years that if I ever had a son I wanted to name him for one or both of my brothers, I decided at that point I wanted to name my future son James Dewey. It would be honoring my Grandpa Ritter, but also doubly honoring my brother James, who told me that he would have preferred James Dewey to James Lester. Grandpa Ritter had a special place in his heart, while Grandpa Davis had died the year before James was born, so obviously he had no memories of him.

In 1997 my brother James was diagnosed with cancer. On July 28, 1998 he passed away at our older brother’s house, with me and our mother and our sister-in-law at his side.

At the end of October, 1998, on what would have been my brother’s 32nd birthday,  I left New York, my home of the previous 11 years, and moved to the south where my parents and two sisters and older brother were all now residing. About a week after arriving in Nashville, TN, I met Jack Pelham. That was about it. We were involved in a few church/musical productions over the next few years, but outside of that we didn’t talk or even acknowledge with a glance that the other existed. Sometime in the spring of 2001 things changed. Through a mutual friendship we began to spend more time together. Talking. One day that summer we were standing out in the parking lot of my apartment complex with another friend. Who knows what in the world we were talking about, but somewhere along the way I mentioned that if I ever had a son I wanted to name him James Dewey, and perhaps shared the story as to why. Jack said a bit sotto voce, “We would have the same initials.” Then he looked a little flustered because we were only friends and I was not supposed to know that he was considering changing my last name to Pelham. Oh, my heart did a little tippy-tippy.

Soon we became “more than friends.” We married in March, 2002, and fourteen months later our son was born. We named him James Dewey Pelham. (Jack’s middle initial is D, by the way. And his father also has the initials JDP.) I was 41 years old at the time of my son’s birth.

These kind of things make me smile about life. I still grieve for the loss of my brother, but how awesome that I would choose a name for my son to honor my brother long before I chose my son’s daddy, and that that daddy would agree to the name, and that he would happen to have the same initials.

I miss you very much, James Lester Davis. I miss what all we could have been learning and enjoying about life together on this planet. Thank you for leaving me an awesome legacy and name to give to my only son. I hope that if you can see us down here, that you are proud of what we’ve done so far. Give us a little nudge, if you’re allowed, to keep us on the right path.

James Lester Davis 1966-1998

George Dewey Ritter 1898-1971



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