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Obituary Press Release, April 22, 1999
Piedmont Aviation Founder Thomas H. Davis,
World Renowned Aviation Pioneer, Dies

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Thursday, April 22, 1999 Thomas H. Davis, founder and retired director of Piedmont Aviation, Inc. and the last of the early legendary commercial aviation pioneers, died today following a lengthy illness. He was 81 years of age.

Davis was just 22 when he became sales manager for Camel City Flying Service, a distributor of Piper and Stinson aircraft in North Carolina based in Winston-Salem, Davis’ hometown. He had learned to fly when just 16, and made his first solo flight on January 29, 1934, in a Taylor E-2. The son of Egbert L. and Annie Shore Davis, he attended private and public schools both in Winston-Salem and Richmond, VA, and received his college education at the University of Arizona where he gave flying lessons to private students.

In 1940, just a year after joining Camel City Flying Service, Piedmont Aviation was born. Davis became vice president, treasurer, a director and principal stockholder of the company and changed its name to Piedmont Aviation, Inc. He soon established 17 dealerships throughout the state, and in the first year, sold more than 100 aircraft, more than all other competitors in North Carolina. At the same time, the overhaul and maintenance shops were expanded, and in 1941, Piedmont became the first, fully-certified Civil Aeronautics Association (CAA) approved aircraft and engine overhaul shop between Washington and Atlanta.

In June 1943, Davis was elected president, treasurer and a director of Piedmont Aviation, Inc., and the Governor appointed him to the North Carolina Aeronautics Commission.

During World War II, Piedmont operated schools in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, providing extensive flight and ground training programs for the military. In addition, the State Department selected Piedmont to provide flight-training programs for Central and South America students. At the end of the war, Davis was concerned about providing his sizable staff with jobs so he applied to the Civil Aeronautics Board for several local service airline routes. Fifteen applicants applied for the routes in the mid-Atlantic area, but Piedmont was the only one selected.

In 1947, Piedmont Airlines, a division of Piedmont Aviation, Inc., was formed. On February 20, 1948, the first commercial flight Flight 41 taxied onto the runway at Wilmington, NC, for its 7:05 a.m. departure with Davis on board. The aircraft made stops in Pinehurst, Charlotte, Asheville, TriCities, and Lexington before terminating in Cincinnati. The company grew steadily over the years and became a leading carrier in the airline industry.

In 1981, Davis was elected Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Piedmont, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1983 when he became Chairman of the Executive Committee. By the time the company merged in 1989 with USAir (now US Airways), Piedmont had approximately 21,500 employees with annual revenues of $2.5 billion.

After his retirement, Davis continued to fly until 1998, logging more than 16,000 hours of flight time in numerous types of aircraft, from his original Taylor E-2, which he restored, to sail planes and general aviation aircraft.

Although Davis is best known as Piedmont’s founder, he is also recognized around the state and nation for his generosity. Many organizations have benefited from his philanthropy, among them Wake Forest University where he was a lifetime trustee; the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center where he served on the Board of Visitors; and the Wake Forest University Divinity School. He also was a strong supporter of the American Lung Association of North Carolina and an active member of Wake Forest Baptist Church.

Throughout his career, Davis was active in many local, state and national organizations and received numerous honors and awards. He has been a leader in many civic programs and several educational scholarships have been established in his honor.

Davis was preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Nancy Teague Davis, who died in 1985. He is survived by five children: Thomas Jr.and his wife Elizabeth of Winston-Salem; Winifred Davis Pierce and her husband Blackwell of Weldon, NC; George Franklin Teague of Winston-Salem; Nancy Davis McGlothlin and her husband Joe of Winston-Salem; and Juliana Davis West and her husband Stephen of Raleigh; one brother, Egbert L. Davis, Jr. of Winston-Salem; one sister, Pauline Perry of Winston-Salem; and 13 grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held in Wait Chapel at the Wake Forest University on Saturday, April 24, 1999 at 11:00 a.m. The family will receive friends from 6-9 p.m. on Friday evening, April 23rd at the home, 1190 Arbor Road. Memorials may be made to the Thomas H. Davis Chair in Pulmonary Medicine at the Wake Forest University-Baptist Medical Center or the Wake Forest University Divinity School.



  • Wake Forest University, Lifetime Trustee
  • The Medical Center/Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Board of Visitors


  • AOPA Air Safety Foundation
  • Experimental Aircraft Association Foundation


  • Piedmont Aviation, Inc., Founder and retired Chairman
  • US Airways, Inc., Director Emeritus
  • Wachovia Bank and Trust Company, N.A.
  • The Wachovia Corporation
  • Norfolk and Western Railway
  • ALLTEL Corporation
  • Duke Power Company
  • Brendle’s
  • North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry
  • The Business Foundation of North Carolina
  • American Lung Association of North Carolina
  • Aeronautical Radio, Inc.
  • ARINC Research Corporation
  • Winston-Salem Rotary Club
  • Reliance Universal, Inc.
  • Integon Corporation
  • Atlas Supply Company
  • Winston-Salem YMCA


  • The Soaring Society of America
  • Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
  • OX-5 Aviation Pioneers Club
  • The Wings Club, past President
  • National Pilots Association
  • National Aviation Club of Washington, DC
  • Quiet Birdmen
  • Winston-Salem Rotary Club, past President


  • Association of Local Transport Airlines, past Chairman
  • Redevelopment Commission of Winston-Salem, past Chairman
  • Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, past President
  • National Defense Executive Reservist for the Department of Transportation
  • North Carolina Aeronautics Commission
  • Advisory Council of the School of Engineering of NC State College
  • Red Shield Boys’ Club Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Utilities Commission
  • Forsyth Economic Analysis and Central Area Development Plan Steering Committee
  • North Carolina Council of Management and Development
  • The Newcomen Society of America


  • Frank Dawson Memorial Trophy
  • University of Arizona Alumni Achievement Award
  • Tony Jannus Award
  • Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame
  • The Newcomen Society of America
  • Air Transport World’s Market Development Award
  • Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Special Award
  • Financial World Magazine Certificate of Distinction (1981, 1982)
  • OX-5 Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame
  • LaGuardia Kiwanis Club’s Man of the Year
  • Greensboro Chamber of Commerce Special Award
  • Aviation Trail Blazer Award of Dayton, Ohio
  • Wake Forest University/Thomas H. Davis Scholarship Award in Business and Accountancy
  • Aero Club of Washington Achievement Award
  • North Carolina Distinguished Citizenship Award
  • Wake Forest University Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree
  • North Carolina Society of New York
  • Daniel Guggenheim Medal
  • Piedmont Entrepreneurs Roundtable Founding member
  • Winston-Salem Traffic Club Honor Society
  • Greater Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award
  • Bowman Gray Medical alumni Distinguished Service Award
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Tom Davis Scholarship Fund
  • North Carolina Business Hall of Fame
  • Winston-Salem Jaycees JCI Senate Award
  • The Wings Club Distinguished Achievement Award
  • The William A. Ong Memorial Award

    Thomas Henry Davis,
    Career Highlights

  • 1918 Born March 15 in Winston-Salem, NC, the son of Egbert L. and Annie Shore Davis.
  • 1934 On January 29, Davis makes his first solo flight in a Taylor E-2 aircraft. He later receives his commercial pilot’s license and instructor and glider rating.
  • 1939 Davis returns home from the University of Arizona and begins working for Camel City Flying Service as a salesman for L.S. (Mac) McGinnis, Davis’ former flight instructor.
  • 1940 Davis becomes principal stockholder in Camel City Flying service. Camel City is dissolved and Piedmont Aviation, Inc. is formed with five employees and three stockholders. Davis is elected vice president, treasurer and director. Primary and advance flying school approved by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).
  • 1941 Piedmont established the first CAA approved aircraft and engine overhaul facility between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
  • 1942 Defense Supplies Corporation awards Piedmont a contract to rain Central and South American students. During World War II, company grows as it trains some 1,000 pilots.
  • 1943 Davis is elected president, treasurer and director of Piedmont. Company begins an Army Air Force aircrew indoctrination program at the Greensboro-High Point Airport.
  • 1944 Piedmont files an application with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) requesting authorization to conduct scheduled local service operations in the southeast. Davis marries the former Nancy Teague.
  • 1947 Piedmont receives permission to operate an airline with the first flight set for September 7 but the CAB issues a postponing order because of a petition filed by another airline. The case goes to the Supreme Court with the results in Piedmont’s favor by year-end.
  • 1948 On February 20, the first commercial flight – Flight 41 – taxies onto the runway at Wilmington, N.C., for its 7:05 a.m. departure with Davis on board. The aircraft makes stops in Pinehurst, Charlotte, Asheville, TriCities, and Lexington before terminating in Cincinnati. Piedmont begins with a fleet of three DC-3s, serves seven airports in four states, and employs 250 people. During the first year, the airline carries 39,370 passengers a total of 9.3 million passenger miles.
  • 1951 Piedmont receives a seven-year renewal certificate, the longest such renewal given to a local service carrier at that time.
  • 1961 The Martin 404 aircraft are purchased, making Piedmont owner of the largest fleet of modern, pressurized aircraft in the local service air transport industry at that time.
  • 1964 The directors declare a 10-cent cash dividend to stockholders, the first such dividend in the company’s history and the first cash dividend ever declared by a publicly owned local service carrier. Piedmont boards its millionth passenger for the year, another first for the airline.
  • 1967 Jet service is inaugurated using two leased Boeing 727-100s.
  • 1972 Taylor E-2 restored by employees for Davis.
  • 1978 Piedmont stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Deregulation of the airline industry becomes effective and Piedmont expands service.
  • 1980 Davis joins aviation pioneers Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, chairman of Eastern Airlines and famous World War I flying ace; Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American World Airways; C.R. Smith, founder of American Airlines; and others in receiving the Tony Jannus Award, one of the most prestigious aviation honors. Award is given annually in honor of pilot Tony Jannus who, in 1914, flew the Benoist Airboat from St. Petersburg to Tampa on the world's first scheduled airline flight, transporting St. Petersburg, FL, Mayor Abe Phiel and a bag of mail.
  • 1981 Davis named chairman of the board and chef executive officer. Earnings reach a record $32 million. New $2.5 million training center named in Davis’ honor.
  • Davis elected to elite Newcomen Society, a nonprofit membership corporation named for Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729), a British pioneer whose contributions in improvements to the steam engine paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.
  • Davis surprises each of the company’s 6,600 employees with a $100 bill as a way to say ‘thank you’ for their efforts.
  • 1983 On May 4, Davis retires. He continues as a member of the board and also serves as chairman of the board’s executive committee. Paul Ignatius, president of the Air Transport Association, presents Davis with a plaque commemorating his many contributions to the aviation industry.
  • Employees present Davis with a Mercedes-Benz convertible and establish the Thomas H. Davis Business Scholarship at Wake Forest University in his honor. Mechanic presents Davis with personalized “PIEDMONT” license plate.
  • 1984 Davis receives an honorary doctorate of laws from Wake Forest University. Davis receives the coveted Guggenheim Medal presented to him for his outstanding achievement in aeronautics. Other recipients include the aviation honor role of pioneers and trailblazers, such as Orville Wright, William E. Boeing, Donald Douglas, Sir Frank Whittle, and Charles Lindbergh.
  • 1985 The Nancy Davis Pacemaker, a new 737-300, flown back from Seattle on May 23. Mrs. Davis dies on July 18.
  • 1986 A "new" DC-3 purchased and refurbished.
  • 1988 On February 20, the airline’s 40th anniversary, Davis -- along with the pilots from the original flight, other employees, and N.C. dignitaries re-enact the first flight from Wilmington to Charlotte aboard Piedmont’s DC-3.
  • 1994 Davis celebrates his 60th anniversary of solo flight.

    During his 43 years at Piedmont’s helm, Davis led the airline from the piston to the jet age, while retaining service to more medium and small hub cities than any other carrier. Piedmont earned a profit all but three years during this time. Davis was especially proud that the airline was consistently ranked among the top three carriers in terms of fewest complaints per hundred thousand passengers carried. The company always reflected his concerns for safety, professionalism, quality service, and strict cost controls. Shortly before his retirement, the airline was cited publicly by the President of the United States, the chairman of the United States Civil Aeronautics Board, and political and civic leaders in countless communities as the airline that has made the most successful transition from a regulated to a deregulated environment. is owned and operated by:
The Piedmont Aviation Historical Society
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