Sheriff Race: Former agent details experience in FBI, 50 years of marriage

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Former FBI Agent Gary Davis said his decision to run for sheriff did not come quickly, and was not even on his radar until friends in the area helped convince him to throw his name in the hat.


After a career in the FBI spanning 23 years, Davis returned to Cassville because he and his wife could not think of any better place to retire. When other candidates began to file for sheriff, he had decided he was not going to run.

"My wife had cancer in 2013, so we spent much of 2014 doing treatments," he said. "In 2015, she started getting better every day, and next month would be two years cancer free.

"We talked about it, and I decided not to run, but when people started filing, others who knew me said I needed to run because of my experience. I'm more of a detective, management type because of my experience at the FBI, and that's what they said they wanted."

Davis said it was the persistence of those asking him to run, along with prayer, that convinced him.

"They basically browbeat me, and I filed in the last week," he said. "My wife and I prayed about it, and I'm a believer in prayer after my wife's battle with cancer."

Born in Monett, Davis attended school at Exeter until first grade, then moved to Wichita, Kan., after his father got a job at Boeing. He returned to Barry County in seventh grade, attending Southwest schools until graduation.

It was at Southwest where he met his wife of 50 years, Mary Jane Mitchell, who he married at age 19.

"She's been my best friend forever," he said. "We're compatible and have always enjoyed each other's company."

After high school, Davis did two years of engineering school at Missouri University at Rolla, hoping to become a civil engineer.

"Life overtook that dream," he said. "I got married and had a kid, and supporting my family became job No. 1. I worked at Daisy Air Rifles in Rogers, Ark. Then, I worked for Zenith in Springfield."

It was an opportunity to be hired as a fingerprint examiner that Davis got his foot in the door at the FBI.

"I applied for the job and got it, and we moved to D.C. We had another child," he said. "I wanted to finish my degree to support my family, and the bureau and law enforcement started looking better and better.

"At one point, I had a full-time job with the bureau, a part-time job in a grocery store stocking and being a cashier, or whatever they needed me to do," he said.

Davis said the move to Maryland and acclimation to life so far away from home was not easy.

"In 1970, there were no minorities in Barry County, and when we moved to Maryland, we were the minority," he said "I also thought [Mary Jane's] family was going to disown me because I took their daughter and only grandchild across the country."

Davis climbed the ranks from fingerprinting to research analysis, and he was appointed agent's class in 1980.

"I worked on the Reagan assassination case and was one of the first agents there," he said. "That's probably the case I worked on that has the most notoriety. I spent seven years in New York working on the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty, then I worked on foreign counter-intelligence, and I spent two years in Knoxville, Tenn., during the World's Fair.

"I also went to Houston and became the No. 2 man on the joint drug intelligence group, which was a 50- or 60-person, multi-agency squad, one of the first in the nation. I was then selected to supervise a new group in El Paso, Texas. That one was my baby. We were not in very good relations with the sheriff or police department, but when I left, we had about 40 people on the squad and members of the sheriff and police departments working for me full time. Getting that cooperation alone was something to be proud of."

Some of Davis' work also extended abroad, like when in Mexico in 1997, he was supervisor of a group recovering buried bodies.

"That was big, national news," he said. "My squad developed an informant who told us where to find the bodies. We dug up nine, and seven of them were U.S. citizens. All were murdered by the drug cartels. We brought their remains back and were able to ID them through DNA."

Davis became an FBI Certified Police Instructor and a graduate of the FBI Executive Development Institute. He has also received training in, among other things, equal employment opportunity for managers, interrogation and interviewing, interpersonal communication, management training for supervisors, basic organized crime, labor racketeering, racketeering enterprise investigations, high intensity drug trafficking, espionage interrogation and interviewing, espionage, criminal intelligence, organized crime, drug trafficking and international terrorism and counterintelligence.

After traveling across the country for his job, Davis returned home to be close to family, including his children and six grandchildren. He will also become a great-grandfather in September.

"Since we retired, my wife and I have some farm land," he said. "She has about 10 or 15 head of cattle and calves, and I'm the hired hand. I was a substitute teacher at Cassville from 2004 to 2014."

Davis said in 2009, he got his post certification, as he is a firm believer in keeping his options open.

"Mick gave me a commission as a reserve, but I didn't do a lot and he never called," he said. "When Mick announced his retirement, I had thought about running but made up my mind I wasn't going to."

However, Davis did run, and he won the Republican primary election by 65 votes over former Highway Patrolman Travis Hilburn.

"I have one goal in doing this -- to improve the Barry County Sheriff's Office and improve the lives of the citizens of Barry County," he said.

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