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Memories of Eisenhower's visits live on at Augusta church

March 26, 2012 - 5:46 pm
Former TV newsman Jim Davis holds a signed photograph and personal letter he received from President Eisenhower.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Former TV newsman Jim Davis holds a signed photograph and personal letter he received from President Eisenhower.
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Jim Davis had the pleasure of covering President Eisenhower’s many visits to Augusta as a local television anchorman, first for WRDW and then WJBF. Now 86, Davis is retired but remains active at Reid Memorial Presby­terian Church.

Davis became a member of the church in the early 1960s and now helps tell and preserve the rich history of the Walton Way church, including its relationship with Eisen­hower and the many reminders that exist to this day of the former president.

Eisen­hower usually sat on the third pew on the left, facing the altar. Across the aisle, a stained glass window features a likeness of him in a scene depicting the three wise men offering gifts to the baby Jesus.

When Eisenhower decided to visit Reid, it set off a chain of events to provide for crowd control and his security.

“He was never one for making way-forward plans,” Davis said. “He would decide Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening that he was going to church the next day. That drove the Secret Service crazy.”

Eisenhower didn’t want to disrupt the normal flow of the service, but certain protocols were always observed.

“Generally just before church started, people would stand automatically when he came in, and then he would sit,” Davis said. “At the conclusion of the service, he would leave first. The minister would say, ‘Would you please remain until President Eisen­how­er has a chance to leave?”

Eisenhower attended Easter services on April 18, 1954, and took part in a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new sanctuary. Several hundred people turned out to witness the president spread mortar on the cornerstone with a silver trowel.

Later that afternoon, Eisenhower played at Augusta National Golf Club in a foursome that included amateur Billy Joe Patton, who had nearly won the Masters Tournament the week before. The president capped his day by fishing with his 6-year-old grandson, David.

After Eisenhower’s death, Reid honored the former president with a plaque on the pew where he and his family sat. Also at the service Feb. 6, 1972, the Redemption Window, found in the church’s balcony, was dedicated to the memory of Eisenhower.

Davis’ fondest memory of Eisenhower came in November 1960. The press threw a party at the Richmond Hotel, and Eisenhower attended.

“I said to him, ‘Mr. President, a year or so ago I had the opportunity to be part of the corps when your plane came, and I have a real good picture of you and Mrs. Eisenhower. I hesitate to ask, but could you autograph that for me?’ ” Davis recalled. “I’m getting a glimpse of (press secretary James) Hagerty, and he looks like he’s about to swallow his upper plate. He told me later nobody asks him for pictures. But Eisenhower said, ‘I’d be delighted to. If you get the picture to Hagerty, we’re leaving on Tuesday, if you’ll get it to him I’ll sign it.’ ”

Mamie Eisenhower continued to visit Augusta after her husband’s death in 1969, and Davis had the chance to get her autograph on the picture as well. He met her when he was asked to make a presentation to her on behalf of a charity organization.

“We sat there and I said I have a picture I took of you and told her about getting him to sign it,” Davis said. “And I said, ‘Can I get you to sign it too?’ And she said, ‘Jim, nobody’s asked for my autograph. If you get it out here I’ll sign it.’ I’m extremely pleased and proud of it. That’s my fondest memory.”