Roy Gene Davis is a dedicated servant of Florida agriculture. The owner and operator of two successful wholesale nurseries in the Tampa area, he is also an undaunted community activist and a generous volunteer. He has worked hard to promote Florida’s agricultural products and the industry, and he has mentored many young people interested in agricultural careers. He has been fighting for the rights of farmers, ranchers, and growers for nearly 50 years.
Davis was born in Fitzgerald, Georgia, in 1932, and moved to Brandon, Florida, with his family when he was just three years old. He received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Florida in 1953. After spending a number of years in the Air Force, Davis moved to Tampa and became manager of the garden department at Sears. He went on to manage the garden department at Montgomery Ward before buying 20 acres and establishing his first nursery.
Opening in 1962, Tampa Wholesale Nursery was an immediate success. Davis bought more land, and soon the nursery boasted 62 acres of woody ornamental plants. In 1979 Davis and his wife, Leta, entered into a partnership with Pete and Bette Walker to form Big Tree Nursery. Big Tree was also successful, and the Davises bought out the Walkers’ interest in 1992.
The demands of running two nurseries did not deter Davis from volunteering in the agricultural community. He has contributed his time, talents, money, plant material, equipment, and staff to a variety of organizations, including Future Farmers of America, 4-H, and the Florida State Fair. Each year he donates his services as an auctioneer to the American Camellia Society Auction, the Pasco County Youth Plant Sale, and many other charitable events that benefit the nursery industry. In the 1970s he helped FFA and 4-H plan produce their first Youth Plant Show and Sale at the Florida Strawberry Festival; this fundraising event now brings in over $40,000 annually.
Each spring Davis is in Tallahassee for the legislative session. He is well known to elected and appointed officials in state government and has supported many ag-friendly legislative initiatives, including the Farm Theft Bill, the Bert Harris Act and other property rights legislation, water measures, and agricultural sales tax exemptions.
Davis has worked tenaciously to correct individual injustices suffered by local farmers. He has testified before local governments for many years on growth management issues, landscape ordinances, and enforcement issues affecting nurserymen and landscape contractors. As a popular columnist in a number of publications, he gives voice to the concerns and the perspective of the farming community. He is an outspoken member of the Hillsborough County Citizens Environmental Action Committee and the Hillsborough County Parks Board.
Davis is involved in a wide array of industry groups and has risen through the ranks of every agricultural organization with which he has been affiliated. A longtime member of the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association, he was elected president of that organization in 1985. Davis served five terms as president of the Hillsborough County Farm Bureau and is the founding chairman of the Tampa Bay Wholesale Growers Trade Show, the largest and most successful local plant trade show in the United States.
Davis’s leadership in his community and his industry has won him many accolades. In 1987 the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association presented him with its highest honor, the Wendall Butler Award for Outstanding Nurseryman of the Year. In 2003 he earned Hillsborough County’s Moral Courage Award, which recognizes Hillsborough County residents who challenge local government bureaucracy. That same year, he received Hillsborough County’s Agricultural Hall of Fame Harvest Award for Lifetime Achievement in Agriculture.
Roy and Leta Davis live in Dover. They have two grown children, Steven and Michael.