Stephanie Fowler: Alice Davis changed lives

I will never forget the day I found out Alice Davis was missing. It was early on Tuesday morning, the day after Labor Day in 2011. My office phone rang and on the other end was my little sister, Kristen.

Stephanie L. Fowler.

“Steph, have you seen the news?” Her voice had a sharp edge to it, a tone that signaled something was wrong. My mother’s voice was the same edge years ago when she called me to tell me a plane had hit a building in New York City.

I told my sister no. I hadn’t seen the news.

And then came the words: “Alice Davis is missing.”

I was confused and horrified. Alice Davis? Missing? It didn’t make any sense …  I could not fathom the sentence. Panic and terror gripped my insides and I knew something terrible had happened to her.

Alice Davis was my senior year English teacher at Parkside High School. I entered her classroom in September 1996 as a 17-year-old wanna-be hippie who wrote terrible poetry and loved to read. That year was a hard one: my mom was in renal failure and her illness weighed heavily on me. The only person who noticed I was struggling was my AP English teacher, Mrs. Alice Davis. I confided in her and she comforted me. She also saw that I loved to write and she mentored my writing aspirations as well. Alice Davis became a safe harbor for me. She became a teacher I would never forget.

We kept in touch. The night in May 2001 when I won the Sophie Kerr Prize, the largest undergraduate literary award in the country, I raced home to call her. I didn’t want her to hear about it on the news or in the morning paper. I wanted her to hear it from me. Later, she invited me to come speak to her honor roll students and I did. She could have asked anything of me, really, and I would have done it gladly.

And I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about Alice, the ever-steady English teacher who loved cats and Shakespeare. Alice Davis – the teacher you might have been intimidated by on the first day of school but the teacher you knew you’d miss the most on your last. She pushed us and challenged us and we became better students, better writers, and better people.

I never forgot Alice Davis because I loved her.

I could sit here and write a thousand more words about her. But these next few are the hardest.

Alice Davis is gone. She wasn’t just missing — she had been brutally murdered by her husband, by someone who was supposed to love her and protect her. For Alice’s family, friends, fellow teachers, and students, her loss was devastating. How could this happen to her? It was the kind of scenario you see on the news, happening to other people living in some other town. Not to someone you know, not to someone you love. Not to someone like Alice.

I was just one among the heartbroken. She had reached out to me when I was just a scared kid and her kindness is a debt I will never be able to repay.

In the months and years after her death, I thought of her often. When I searched her name on the internet, the first articles to pop up were always the ones related to her murder. I hated that. When I mentioned her name, I often heard a similar line: “Isn’t that the teacher who was murdered?” It bothered me to know she was so closely connected to her worst day. Who would want to be remembered for the worst day of their life? I wanted something different for Alice.

And so, I did what I always do when I’m trying to figure out my place in this world. I sat down and began to write. I knew better than to think I could give her a different ending. No writer, no matter how great — not even Shakespeare — could do that. But I did know Alice Davis. I knew why she mattered to so many. I knew I could tell you how special she was.

This book is the hardest thing I have ever written. Six years, hours of interviews, and mountains of records and research have been narrowed down to a singular focus: Alice Davis deserves to be remembered because she is more than just a murder victim. I want you to know who she was, what happened to her and why. I want to show you what her true legacy is: the indelible mark she left on all of us. 

Stephanie Fowler is the owner of Saltwater Media in Berlin. Her second book, “Chasing Alice” is set to be released this month. For more information, or to pre-order a copy of the book, visit stephaniefowler.net.

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