It may have been the most memorable Face on the Barroom Floor event in the history of the Omaha Press Club.
When Omaha Attorney James Martin Davis became the 97th Face on the Barroom Floor in August 2004, a record crowd of 350 attended including 220 people who stayed for dinner.
It was termed “the roast with the most.” Not only was there a record turnout, but there also was an all-time high in roasters (10), and they went on for an unprecedented one hour and 20 minutes saluting the man known as the “Prince of One-Liners” and the “King of the Sound Bite.”
Davis, 75, died on Aug. 30 after suffering a heart attack. He was arguably the most recognizable attorney in the state of Nebraska. A huge fan of the media – many of whom he represented in contract negotiations – Davis embraced the Omaha Press Club as the beacon for freedom of the press.
Ironically, Davis was scheduled to present a Noon Forum at the Press Club on Sept. 16. He was going to discuss his new book, Memorial Day: Our Nation’s Time to Remember. The book, published by the Omaha World-Herald, was a compilation of all the Memorial Day columns Davis wrote each year for the newspaper.
Davis was drafted into the Army after his first year of law school and sent to Vietnam in 1969. A member of the 4th Infantry Division, he completed his yearlong tour of duty as a decorated combat infantryman. His columns often expressed his gratitude for his Army comrades, some of whom were killed in combat.
His star-studded slate of roasters included seven individuals who are now fellow Faces on the Barroom Floor:
Mike Kelly (emcee), Omaha World-Herald columnist, No. 107 in 2006;
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, No. 60 in 1995;
Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, No. 105 in 2006;
Fr. Val Peter, director of Boys Town, No. 58 in 1994;
Harold Andersen, Omaha World-Herald publisher, No. 28 in 1984;
Douglas County Sheriff Richard Roth, No. 18 in 1982; and
KETV anchorwoman Julie Cornell, No. 155 in 2017.
The other roasters included U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf, financial adviser and legendary Nebraska quarterback Jerry Tagge, and Jim Fagin, an aide to Sen. Nelson and a former TV/radio reporter.
Kelly threw the first dart at Davis, noting that he had issued a record number of invitations – 1,800, “which is more than the number of votes he received when he ran for Congress.”
Some of the other best quips from the roast included:
Sen. Nelson, a Davis classmate at the University of Nebraska Law School: “I wanted him to look his best tonight, so I loaned him my hair.”
Fahey: “At Creighton Prep, he took a freshman IQ test. The results were negative.”
Tagge: “Jim Davis has no sex drive. His wife, Polo, started jogging so she could hear heavy breathing again.”
Roth, who hired Davis for the Secret Service: “Other agents said that the most dangerous thing about their job was to get between Jim and a television camera.”
In response to the lengthy grilling, Davis said, “I don’t feel like I’ve been roasted. I feel like I’ve been deep-fat fried.”
He also didn’t hesitate to poke fun at himself, saying: “I represent an elite clientele. Most of them live in gated communities.”
There were many touching moments as well. One of them came when Tagge said, “After a drunk-driving arrest, Jim helped me get counseling and into Alcoholics Anonymous. I became a born-again Christian, and I will be eternally grateful to him.”
OPC Artist Jim Horan’s caricature depicted Davis in his “working clothes” – a pinstripe suit and gold tie. Included in the background were illustrations of his days in Vietnam and the Secret Service, Lady Justice, a convict client of Davis holding a toilet paper gun, and a horde of media seeking comments from the man called “JMD.”
Always the polished professional with a way with words, Davis closed his roast with a tribute to the media. “I have been blessed over the last 28 years to have had a very amiable relationship with some of the finest, hard-working members of the news media anywhere in the country.”
For those wishing to purchase a copy of Davis’s book, it is available for $21.95 through the Omaha World-Herald. You can go online at: