The solemn drone of bagpipes fills the cold winter air as hundreds of pensive mourners shuffle into the towering white stone church. Inside sits a family coping with the sudden, unexplainable loss of a father, son, brother and friend. Between the wooden pews lay the body of Springfield mayor Tim Davlin, who served the city in that office for seven years and died Dec. 14 at the age of 53.
During his funeral procession from Blessed Sacrament Church to Calvary Cemetery, mourners lined the streets by the city’s Municipal Building, placing green carnations on the passing hearse in honor of Davlin’s Irish heritage.
Timothy J. Davlin was born Aug. 27, 1957, in Springfield, the son of Robert and Norene Davlin. He attended Blessed Sacrament Grade School, then graduated from Griffin High School in 1975. He earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Springfield College. In 1977, he married Nancy Conway of Springfield, with whom he had four children, Tara, Mallory and Ryan Davlin, all of Springfield, and Shalaigh Davlin of Hainesville, Ill. Before his election as mayor in 2003, Davlin worked in the finance and insurance sector for AXA Advisor. Davlin had four grandchildren, three sisters and three brothers.
Mike Farmer, director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of Springfield, knew Davlin from the day Davlin was born. Their parents were close friends, Farmer recalls, and Davlin was always “a special individual in terms of sense of humor, charm, good looks and a lot more”.
“He knew how to win people over with literally a wink of an eye,” Farmer says. “I know very few people who didn’t like him. They may not have agreed with him on various policy issues or other disagreements, but personality-wise, you couldn’t help but like the guy.”
Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards says he and Davlin would sometimes clash over issues during city council meetings, but they could always talk about the issues cordially. Edwards says their opposition to one another often stemmed from their competitive natures, but Davlin’s competitive streak complimented his sense of humor well. At a bowling league game a few years ago, Edwards and Davlin made a bet about who would win. Davlin lost the first two rounds, Edwards recalls, so he had to wear a sweater bearing Edwards’ team name. The mayor put his legs through the sweater’s arm holes, wearing the shirt upside-down over his abdomen.
“Everybody got a hoot out of that,” Edwards says. “He could take something very competitive, and win, lose or draw, make it fun.”
City spokesman Ernie Slottag remembers Davlin’s intelligence and confident management style as mayor.
“He would choose his managers carefully, then sit back and let them operate,” Slottag says. “He was always involved, but he knew it was their ball to run with. … And he was a quick study. You could hand him a position paper and he would learn the ins and outs the first time. Nobody knew the budget like he did.”
Slottag credits Davlin with the quick completion of the city’s Dallman 4 power plant, securing funds for the renovation of Capitol Avenue and the recent passage of a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that reforms fire and police pensions.
“He always had a smile, no matter what he was doing,” Slottag says, adding that Davlin often took problems upon himself. “He once said to someone, ‘I didn’t tell you to worry today. Let me do the worrying. You just go to work and take care of the project.’ He would lighten it up when it needed to be light, and be firm and serious when he needed to be.”
While serving as mayor, Davlin was also known for his involvement in several programs to better the city, including Springfield Green, Adopt-a-Street, and Springfield Restaurants United Against Hunger. Linda Gessaman, a community organizer with the Springfield-based Homeless United for Change, says Davlin showed great interest in ending the problem of chronic homelessness in Springfield shortly before his death.
“He brought us to the table and gave us a voice in the city’s planning that we otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Gessaman says. “He showed a heart for the homeless and he wanted to get more young people involved. We just hope we can keep our promises to him.”
Farmer says Davlin will be remembered most for the way he led Springfield through several crises: the tornados of 2006, the power plant explosion of 2007, the atrophy of state government jobs under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the current economic slump, to name a few.
“As bad as these calamities were, he did it with dignity, grace and humor,” Farmer says. “His legacy will be one of guiding Springfield through difficult times with difficult problems. He has changed the face of the city for decades to come. I think he could quite possibly be the greatest mayor in our history.”
Farmer says Davlin’s death is a loss, both personally and on a broader scope.
“I’m going to miss his smile and his nature, just the fact that he’s not going to be the mayor, that he’s not going to be there to talk to and share jokes with,” Farmer says. “The fact that he’s not here is devastating…How many people can you say have helped the neediest people in Springfield and the President of the United States? His reach was citywide, statewide, even beyond Illinois.”