A Commanding Presence
story by Lydia Thompson
It doesn't take long for visitors to Paducah Tilghman High School to notice Principal Art Davis roaming the campus. His booming laugh echoes through the halls, and he is arguably the best-dressed person in the school.
Art, 56, has been an educator for 31 years, 25 of which he has spent at Paducah Tilghman. All those years at the same school have allowed him to help multiple generations of students, as well as train most of the school administrators in the area, earning him the nickname "the Godfather."
But his impact is not limited to the school system. He knows most members of the community by name.
"Sometimes you find a place that fits you," Art says of Paducah. "I understand the community, and I think the community understood me."
Art never thought he would become an educator. He spent his high school years in Hopkinsville and enlisted in the Army while at Murray State University, hoping to eventually move his wife and children to Atlanta. But when his Reserve unit was assigned to Paducah, he found a job as the band director at Massac County High School in nearby Metropolis, Ill.
"I didn't think I would ever walk back into a school ... I actually didn't like [high school]," he says. "The first day that I hit the classroom I knew I was onto something, and I knew that this was going to be my life."
Though he eventually gave up a 15-year career in the active Reserves to pursue an administrative position at Paducah Tilghman, Art's military background continues to influence his approach to education. He is strict with students, and he prioritizes security and discipline on his campus.
"Mr. Davis... appears to be really tough and macho, but he's really soft," says Heather Hamilton, the business manager at Paducah Tilghman. "He's got a big heart, but he doesn't show it... he doesn't let anybody see that."
Among those closest to his heart are the members of his family. He and his wife have four children and seven grandchildren, though only his son, Brandon, and his granddaughter, Maddie, live in Paducah. Every Friday, Art meets Brandon for lunch, and he sometimes has lunch with Maddie at the nearby elementary school.
His family's happiness is "my major, No. 1 concern," he says.
Several members of his family passed through Paducah Tilghman. His nephew, who graduates next year, will likely be the last under his leadership. Art plans to retire once his nephew crosses the stage.
"You don't want to outstay your time," he says.
But his career as an educator is not quite over. Art plans to continue teaching elsewhere in the community.