Major coffee supplier became a generous local philanthropist

If you've ever had a cup of coffee at McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts, it likely came from J. Roy Davis Jr.'s S&D Coffee plant in Concord.

Davis was one of the area's most successful businessmen, expanding his father's small company into a coffee and tea supplier for some of the world's largest restaurant chains. He died last week at age 77 of complications from kidney cancer.

Buck Davis and Lawrence Switzer founded S&D Coffee in Charlotte in the late 1920s. They roasted coffee and added chicory, a popular flavoring at the time, and supplied mom-and-pop stores in the area.

Roy Davis graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Davidson College in 1955 with a business degree, then served more than three years in the Navy.

When Buck Davis died of a heart attack at age 62, Roy Davis, an only child, took the company in a new direction, said Sue Davis, his wife of 51 years. He moved the company to Concord and turned its focus to supplying hospitals, restaurants, offices and convenience stores.

Before the Davises married in 1960, Sue said, her Charlotte friends would ask her what her fiancé did for a living.

"I'd say, 'S&D Coffee,' " Sue said. "They'd say, 'What is that?' "

When S&D landed the Harris Teeter account, Sue called those friends with the news about a local business name they would recognize. They were relieved, Sue said, that she would be well taken care of.

Roy provided well, and the Davises built their dream house on a hill in Concord in 1978.

Sue describes Roy as an outstanding businessman who hired good people.

Some employees stayed with the company for decades, and Ron Hinson, Roy's successor as CEO, moved up the ranks from a job as a salesman.

As the success of S&D grew, Roy wanted to give back to the community, Sue said.

"He just felt that we had been financially blessed," Sue said. The Davises supported their church, First Presbyterian in Concord, and Roy was involved with community organizations such the Salvation Army and Big Brother/Big Sister.

The Davis name will long be remembered in the area, whether it's the Davis Café in Davidson College's Alvarez College Union or the Davis Theatre on the second floor of the historic courthouse in downtown Concord.

In August 2010, Davidson College dedicated Davis Hall, a new dormitory for students returning from studying abroad.

The hall was named after the Davises to honor their $1 million gift to the school.

Davis was too sick to attend the dedication ceremony, but his son Rhyne, also a Davidson graduate, delivered his speech for him. Sue took Roy's college Phi Gamma Delta fraternity paddle and freshman beanie to show the crowd.

Davis first learned of his cancer four years ago after recovering from pneumonia. A post-illness x-ray showed spots on his kidneys, Sue Davis said.

He spent his last months at home under hospice care, and Hinson arranged for groups of S&D employees to visit him at home.

His room was a former glassed-in porch next to Sue's bedroom, where he could enjoy the view and watch the occasional deer wander across the grounds.

Letters from former employees poured in, some telling Davis they had been able to send their children to college thanks to their salaries from S&D.

Roy was buried with his Davidson class ring, which he had worn for decades. Six months after they were married, he told Sue he "looked married" and asked her if she would mind if he wore his class ring on his left hand.

She wears his wedding band on a charm bracelet.

Sue and Roy married five years after they graduated from college.

Sue said her dad worried that she was never going to find a man. She sees it differently.

"I just waited for the best," she said.

Besides his wife, Davis is survived by his two sons, Alan Peden Davis and his wife, Robin B. Davis, and E. Rhyne Davis and his wife, Lisa E. Davis; and three grandchildren, Carrie Elizabeth Davis, Brian Peden Davis and John Kenneth "Jack" Davis.