A case of mistaken municipal identity landed Woodward "Woody" Davis a job in Long Beach for the rest of his life.
The swim instructor who coached generations of Long Beach students died Friday after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 82.
Davis accepted a job in Long Beach straight out of college in 1964, thinking he was heading to California. But he fell in love with the Long Island city where he coached the Long Beach High School swim team and swim club for 50 years, current high school swim coach John Skudin said.
"He had a way of making everyone feel special," Skudin said. "He was a coach that demanded respect, but never had to yell."
Davis was born in El Centro, California, on Oct. 17, 1933, before moving to Forest Hills, Queens, when he was 16. He joined the U.S. Air Force and competed on its swimming and diving team before being recruited to dive for Washington State University. Davis taught for three years in Olympia, Washington, before pursuing his master's degree at Columbia University in Manhattan.
He married Virginia "Ginny" Hanell shortly after graduating from Columbia and was hired to teach physical education and health, and to coach swimming, gymnastics and soccer at Long Beach High School.
"It's like they wrote the job description for him. He had everything they wanted," Ginny Davis said.
Davis won more than 500 dual swim meets during his career as coach, in addition to 17 Nassau County titles and 14 undefeated seasons. He was named coach of the year five times.
Davis worked summers running the Town of Hempstead's swimming program for more than 20 years. He was given a lifetime achievement award from the Nassau County Sports Commission, and the high school pool was dedicated to him.
Davis was a mentor to several of the swimmers he coached and served as a father figure to Skudin and other teens who looked to him for leadership.
"He helped so many people here," Skudin said. "There may have been someone going down the wrong road, and he had the time and patience to steer them down the right road."
Davis' commitment to the swim club was tested but didn't waver during superstorm Sandy when his Island Park house was destroyed. He rented an apartment along the Long Beach boardwalk and remained at the school, keeping the swim club going for several students who lost their homes in the storm, Skudin said.
"He kept the teams going and kept kids involved so they didn't have to think about Sandy," Skudin said. "So many kids were displaced."
In October, Davis moved with his wife to Carlsbad, California, to be closer to one of his daughters and grandchildren.
In addition to his wife, Davis is survived by daughters Tiffany Cannava of Surfside, Florida, and Tara Curley of Encinitas, California, their husbands and five grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be planned at a future date, family members said.
Donations in his honor may be sent to the Woody Davis Scholarship Fund at Long Beach High School, 322 Lagoon Dr. West, Long Beach, NY 11561 Attn: Ilene Ratner Guidance Dept. or to The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network at www.pancan.org.