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Joanne Nottingham and Harry Davis

April 25, 2016

Joanne Nottingham and Harry Davis ’79 may have very different careers, but a common thread to inspire others weaves intricately through each one's work.

Nottingham is the faculty coordinator of Leadership Studies and lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership in the Watson College of Education. Davis, her husband, is an award-winning Wilmington artist.

As a child, Nottingham wanted to teach. She began her career as an elementary and special education teacher in Atlanta, but switched careers and worked for Delta Airlines in marketing and public relations.

“Teaching and sales are exactly the same thing because salespeople teach about a product and get people excited about it, and that’s exactly what education is,” said Nottingham.

After more than a decade with Delta, Nottingham said she became bored, and had a desire to return to teaching.

“I still didn’t intend on becoming a college professor,” she said. “I thought I was going to teach Spanish because I pick up on languages quickly. Back then, I was fluent in Spanish and French and I thought I would move back to New York and teach in Spanish Harlem. Instead, a former college professor and family friend convinced me to go to graduate school.”

Davis, a self-taught artist who began drawing and sketching as a child, was interested in social work, earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology from UNCW. After an accidental shooting while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg left him permanently confined to a wheelchair, he turned to oil painting.

“It’s something that I was born to do,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything better than having a career doing something that you love.”

Nottingham and Davis met at the university’s Martin Luther King celebration in 1995, and have been inseparable ever since.

“Every time I attended a speaking engagement for black history month with my students, Harry was there,” recalled Nottingham. “I thought he was hitting me up to buy artwork. I kept saying, “‘Professors do not have as much money as you think we do.’ Then one of my students said, ‘Doc, I think he’s interested in you.’ Low and behold, that was it. He’s partially the reason I’ve been here all this time.”

The couple wed in 1997.

Nottingham finds joy in watching her students learn about themselves.

“Teaching leadership, there is a lot of self-exploration about your identity to help you figure out why you do what you do,” she said. “I like watching students reveal things about themselves that they haven’t articulated, and figure out how those things influence their daily lives.”

Likewise, Davis enjoys witnessing people’s reaction to his work. At art shows, he would often set up his original work and move away from his booth to watch their reactions to his paintings. One woman looked his painting of an African warrior for more than 10 minutes, he recalled. He introduced himself and asked what struck her about his painting.

“She said, ‘Just looking at your work, I have realized how much we have lost,’” Davis recalled. “To know that one of my paintings would have that kind of impact on a person is really moving.”

The couple continues to find inspiration each day from their surroundings. For Davis, it’s the southeastern NC landscape and its people, and for Nottingham, her students.

“I thought about retiring, but what would I do? This is still fun,” said Nottingham. “I can tell that I am kind of moving toward stopping, but not yet.”

-- Venita Jenkins