Astoria Characters: The Man Who Has Done It All

“I want to show you my Wall of Life,” says Rob Davis as he opens the door to his home office with a flourish.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Rob’s a consummate creative.

The wall, a pictorial time line of Rob memorabilia, is filled with framed photos and painted portraits.

It goes back a long way – Rob, polymath, philanthropist, performer and prolific composer and author who once walked across hot coals, is 78.

Here’s Rob during his teenage modeling years (he regularly appeared in Seventeen magazine when he was around that age).

Here’s Rob’s nuclear family at a birthday party (they, sadly, succumbed to smoke-induced cancer).

Here’s Rob running the New York City and Boston Marathons (he finished 15 before a hip replacement sidelined him, forcing him to switch to bicycling in the early 1990s).

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Rob’s working on several new projects.

Here’s Rob’s mother at 17 wearing a ballgown (a touring concert pianist as a child, she became an actress and singer).

Here’s Rob’s father (he was a character actor who appeared in a series of commercials as Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson).

Here are Rob’s children (thrice divorced, he fathered two and “inherited” four during various relationships).

And here’s Tucker, Rob’s snow-white German Shepherd (the canine companion lived to be 20; Rob has never recovered from his death).

The wall ends with an original portrait of Frank Sinatra, Rob’s musical muse, by LeRoy Neiman.

“These are treasures that I’ll have with me until I die,” he says. “I like looking at them.”

The memories don’t stop there, though.

On the facing bookshelves, there are two brass urns containing the remains of Rob’s parents.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Rob established a nonprofit to aid victims of child abuse.

A row of manila folders is filled with songs Rob has composed (he has two acoustic and one electric guitar; you can see him perform on his YouTube channel) and research for the books he’s writing.

What Goes Around Comes Around – A Guide To How Life REALLY Works was published in 2020, and One Stormy Night, a tale about the Revolutionary War that he was co-writing with his father, will be out soon.

Rob, a Gemini with white wispy hair, has so many interests – we haven’t even mentioned his singing and dancing (he took tap, ballet and jazz lessons ) – that one of his artist friends painted a “portrait” of him that shows a signpost with different locations around the globe pointing in different directions. It is, of course, on the Wall of Life.

“He said it was me because I’m all over the place.”

That may be, but Rob got his start in one place: Freeport, Long Island.

The middle of three children and the family’s only boy, Rob often attended shows in Manhattan his father acted in.

Rob as a teenage model.

 “When I was in high school, I had a girlfriend who wanted to be a model,” he says. “So I said, ‘Me, too,’ even though I didn’t know anything about it.”

After knocking on doors of numerous modeling agencies, Rob got signed, eventually also doing commercials and radio spots.

By this time, he had learned to play the guitar and had taken up boxing.

He had no intention of going to college but at the last minute enrolled at SUNY New Paltz to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War.

He played on the soccer team and starred in the school’s theatrical productions.

After earning a degree in education and speech and theater arts, he taught elementary school for a couple of years.

“I was in Freeport, and three of the kids in my classes were victims of child abuse,” he says. “I reported it, but the school and the police did nothing, so I confronted each of the fathers. We brawled, and I got arrested three times. I didn’t want to teach any more after that.”

During the next several years, Rob had a series of different jobs, eventually becoming an institutional stock broker, a career he had for a quarter of a century.

He never forgot about the three students who were abused, and in 1998, he founded Help For Children, a nonprofit that has awarded more than $58 million in grants to protect youngsters from mistreatment.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Rob was an institutional stock broker.

Between his philanthropy, his various projects and his work for a research think tank that focuses on investment strategy, Rob is busier than ever.

“I’m constantly writing,” he says. “Sometimes when I’m in the car, I think of song lyrics and pull over to put them down.”

A door opens at the other end of the apartment.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A portrait of Rob doing one of his favorite things.

Rob has a house guest from Atlanta.

As he’s getting her coat out of his car, she mentions that she’s the daughter of one of Rob’s college friends, who is, of course, pictured on the wall.

Rob’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.

Once, when she was quite young, she came to visit him when he lived in Manhattan, and they walked his dog.

Yes, she’s talking about Tucker – like Rob, she fell in love with him and got a Swiss German Shepherd that looks just like him.

When she leaves, Rob talks about karma and meditation, themes that are part of one of his new projects.

“We don’t have a course that teaches people how the law of cause and effect affects them,” he says. “So I’m writing one. What Goes Around Comes Around is the text.”

And so Rob’s Wall of Life continues to expand.

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling