Jim Davenport, an Associated Press reporter who worked to inform people in South Carolina about what their governors, lawmakers and other powerful officials were doing with their tax money and their influence, died Monday.
Davenport, 54, died after battling cancer for two years.
Davenport was a tenacious reporter. He was the first reporter to tell the world in 2009 that Gov. Mark Sanford had been missing for a couple of days. Davenport later revealed that Sanford used taxpayer money to upgrade himself to business or first-class on flights and use the state plane for personal trips. That led to Sanford paying a $74,000 fine, the biggest ethics penalty in state history.
Davenport was at the State House during some of the most dramatic periods of modern S.C. history and was the wire service’s main reporter on the day in July 2000 when both the Confederate flag was taken down and the state banned video gambling.
Davenport worked long hours, but his bosses knew he needed to leave on time when his daughter, Catherine, was performing on stage. His wife, Debra, said her husband loved his only child so much he wouldn’t even take his tie off before he was romping around the room with her when she was little.
Before entering journalism, Davenport drove a barge for a dredging operation, worked as a roadie for a band and made tires at a factory. He also earned a master’s degree in English. The journalism bug bit him while he was at the University of South Carolina
Davenport worked for The State newspaper as a business writer for 101/2 years before joining the AP’s S.C. bureau in 1999.
“Jim was a great reporter and mentor,” said Adam Beam, a State House reporter for The State. “He took time to teach dozens of USC journalism students how to cover the State House, including myself from 2003 to 2005. I am forever grateful to Jim for sharing his skills.”
Davenport wanted to beat everyone. But when he got beat, he was never shy about shaking another reporter’s hand and congratulating them on a scoop, said John O’Connor, an education reporter for National Public Radio in Florida who worked at The State for eight years.
And he never tired of covering any aspect of South Carolina’s government. “I remember one all-night session with the House and the Senate, and I was off grumbling in the corner, and Jim came up to me, talking about how lucky we were to get to cover this and let people know what was going on,” O’Connor said.
Davenport also was highly regarded by the public officials he covered.
In March 2012, the state Senate honored Davenport with a resolution, introduced by state Sen. John Land, who was wrapping up his 37th and final year in the Legislature.
“I never noticed whether Jim had an agenda,” the Clarendon Democrat said. “He reported it fair, whether you liked it or not.”
After the resolution was adopted unanimously, every senator came by to shake Davenport’s hand, offering words of thanks and encouragement.
Six weeks later, the House also honored Davenport. Members recalled his intelligence and love for his state.
“Society is better when we have journalists who are smart people,” state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, told Davenport, as he sat in the balcony. “South Carolina has been a better place because of your service.”