Joe Davis was a loving son and brother who fought and suffered with addiction for more than half his life.
He started at age 13, with alcohol and marijuana. Then he moved to harder drugs. At 15, his family sent him to a rehabilitation center in Utah for six months. He recovered. Then he relapsed. Then recovered. Then relapsed. Again and again, often rebuffing loved ones’ attempts to intervene.
At 28, having been clean for 18 months, he was hopeful.
Then on Oct. 3, 2009, he went to a Widespread Panic concert in Charlotte. Early the next morning, he was found in a parking lot dead of a heroin overdose.
Though Davis’s family still grieves, they want people to know about his battle with addiction.
They’re holding the Joe Davis Memorial Resolution Run on Saturday in Fort Mill, hoping to spotlight the disease, urge people to talk openly about addiction and raise money for Keystone Substance Abuse Services.
“If more people talked about it, maybe more people would get help,” said Melissa Davis Boyd, Joe’s sister.
The memorial run includes a 5K and a 1-mile fun run at Walter Elisha Park. The 5K starts at 9 a.m. and the fun run starts at 9:15.
All proceeds will go to Keystone in Rock Hill, which offers a variety of treatment and prevention services.
Davis Boyd, a nurse, organized the run with help from her mom Kristen Davis Rhyne and her older brother Chris. She was hoping 100 to 250 runners would show up. So far, 295 people have registered.
A family’s fight
Joe Davis was often a joy to be around, his family said.
He was “always cutting up,” Davis Boyd said. “He was not materialistic at all.”
He found satisfaction in accomplishments and building things. He worked in construction and often traveled to Charleston to fish.
“He liked to be his own boss and do his own thing,” said Davis Boyd, who named the youngest of her three children Joanna, after her brother. “He liked to travel. He would just pick up and go, no qualms about it.”
His battle with addiction was also his family’s fight, though for much of it they struggled in the dark.
“I don’t think I was ever fully aware of what he was using and what he was doing,” Davis Rhyne said. “It was devastating for us.”
Joe’s moods were erratic at times, but even in dark moments, his warm personality shone through.
“He was a child that you could just love, cherish and adore,” Davis Rhyne said. “He was adorable and endearing. He made your heart melt. There was no way you could stay mad at him, no matter what he did.
“That was part of the problem. I didn’t recognize how bad it was.”
It was Pete Davis who first recognized that his son was struggling with addiction in middle school. Pete knew because he lived with the same disease. He was a recovering prescription pain pill addict. Davis Rhyne’s mother had struggled with alcoholism.
Pete, who died in 2000, and Davis Rhyne searched for places to send Joe and chose a rehabilitation center at a ranch in Utah. He appeared to make remarkable progress, but then fell back into drugs.
The last time his mother saw him was Oct. 3, 2009. He visited her at home for the first time in five months and told her he was planning to move to California with friends. Then he left for the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre to see Widespread Panic perform.
‘It’s a disease’
One of the Davis family’s goals is to pierce the stigma they see surrounding addiction.
Even in 2013, they said, addiction is too often seen as a personal deficiency or moral shortcoming.
“It’s not a weakness. It’s a disease,” Davis Boyd said. “We need to start talking about this.”
Addicts “need to feel like they can say, ‘Hey. I have a problem,’” she said. “Joe came from a middle class, Christian, hard-working family. The disease doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anybody.”
They’re giving all of the memorial run proceeds to Keystone because it saves lives, the family said.
Had they known about Keystone when Joe was alive, Davis Boyd said they might have been better equipped.
“Who’s to say it wouldn’t have made a difference?” she said.
After learning about Keystone, Davis Rhyne, a financial planner with Founders Federal Credit Union, joined the governing board.
Keystone is a private, non-profit agency that serves as the county's designated substance abuse treatment center. Its funding comes from an array of sources including county, state and federal tax revenues, client fees and donations.
The memorial run is the first 5K in support of the agency, said Monica Hanna, Keystone’s marketing and event coordinator.
“We hope this is a big success for years to come,” Hanna said.
It’s still tough for the Davis family to talk about Joe without crying.
But Davis Rhyne said they have been able to move forward, consoled by a discovery they made preparing for her son’s funeral.
They found his diary, she said, in which “he clearly acknowledged knowing God and his salvation through Jesus Christ.”
“We know that he went to heaven and that we will see him again.”
Joe Davis Memorial Resolution Run
Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072