To the world, Howard Davis Jr. was an Olympic gold-medal-winning boxer with lightning-fast jabs.
To many in Glen Cove, where he was born and raised, he was John-John, the guy who ran up and down the city’s hills early every morning, who always had time to help get you through tough times, who never forgot his humble roots in a Glen Cove Housing Authority apartment.
More than 200 people on Saturday gathered at the Glen Cove Boys & Girls Club to pay tribute to Davis, who died Dec. 30 of lung cancer at his home in Florida at age 59.
The event was the latest of numerous honors the city has bestowed on him, from the parade Glen Cove threw for him upon his return from the 1976 Olympics in Montreal to the 2009 dedication of a street in his name and flags that flew at half staff after his death.
On Saturday, Mayor Reginald Spinello announced Glen Cove would hold a celebration on July 31 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Davis’ gold medal.
“He would always tell me how much he was touched that his hometown was treating him like a hero,” said Karla Guadamuz-Davis, Davis’ widow.
As Guadamuz-Davis looked out at the standing-room-only crowd in the club gymnasium, which was filled with childhood friends, cousins, sparring partners and others who had known her late husband for decades, she told them how much they had meant to Davis.
“You guys are true and real and loved him not because of the glitz or glamour but because he’s John-John,” Guadamuz-Davis said. “I didn’t cry at the Florida memorial, but I’m getting teary-eyed here. Tell me if it’s because of all the love I’m feeling.”
A similarly choked-up Craig Gibson, 52, a childhood friend who as a teenager struggled to keep up with Davis on 4:30 a.m. runs, marveled at Davis’ stamina and a dedication that included intensive training 365 days a year, including Christmas. As an adult, Gibson became one of Davis’ trainers.
“He did everything that was needed to be great,” he said.
After the tribute, Guadamuz-Davis traveled a few hundred feet down Glen Cove Avenue to the public housing complex where Davis grew up. She and the couple’s 5-year-old daughter, Samiha, placed a glass vase of flowers below a mural of Davis and his father and trainer, Howard Davis Sr.
“We’re going to leave these here for Daddy and say a little prayer so we never forget him,” Guadamuz-Davis said, her arm draped around her daughter.
They then walked toward a brick wall of one of the apartment buildings, where newly installed letters marked the renaming of the place where her late husband had spent his youth the Howard Davis Jr. Complex.
Guadamuz-Davis smiled broadly.
“Oh, my God, this is so beautiful.”