Out on his own in the working world at age 21, Cory Davis still wasn’t too old to tell his father he loved him. And that’s a message that his father Tommy keeps close to his heart amid an unspeakable family tragedy on a West Virginia mountaintop.
Tommy Davis, 42, not only lost his son Cory, but his brother Timmy and his nephew Joshua in Monday’s explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in Montcoal, W. Va. The blast claimed at least 25 lives in the worst mining accident in the U.S. in 26 years.
Speaking to Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday, Tommy Davis recounted his last, all-too-brief chat with his son as they headed down the mine for work that morning.
“He was trying to get his lunch in the bucket that his grandma had fixed him, because that’s where he picked my nephew up,” Davis, accompanied by wife Cindy, told Lauer from his home in Dawes, W. Va.
“We just talked for a few moments; we always tried to every morning before we’d go into the mines. I kind of turned around and walked away from him and hollered, ‘Hey, Bubba!’ He said, ‘What, Dad?’ I said, ‘I love you, buddy.’ And he said, ‘I love you too, old man! I’m gonna go cut me some coal.”
Family traditionCoal mining runs deep in the Davis family blood. Davis’ brother Timmy, 51, and nephew Joshua, 27, both worked alongside Cory Davis in the mines. Tommy Davis worked as a strip miner for 14 years before getting laid off — his brother angled to land him a job at Upper Big Branch two months ago, putting him alongside his son Cory, who often joked that he had seniority over his father.
Tommy Davis was working his way out of the mine Monday when he felt a gust of wind — abnormal for the circumstances. And though dust was kicking up as Davis exited the mine, he told Lauer, “I really didn’t think anything.
“I just sat and waited, to see if my boy was coming out, or my brother, or my nephew,” Davis said. He waited in the mine parking lot with another coal-mining nephew, Cody, and eventually received word that three of their family members were among the confirmed dead.
While Davis said he will never forget his final words to his son, he said he also had the opportunity to chat with brother Timmy and nephew Joshua in the mining office shortly before their shifts started on the day that ended in heartbreak.
Maintaining composure while fighting back tears, Tommy Davis told Lauer how the entire community has rallied around his family, especially son Cory’s large circle of friends.
“We all got together the other evening and went out on top of the mountain,” he said. “I asked all the kids to please do me a favor and take a moment of their time and tell me something about my son that maybe I didn’t know.
“The stories started and the hours went by. The fire started dying down and the stories started getting softer. Then all the kids went home. It was a good evening.”
A big heartDavis said his son Cory loved his job at the mine and was close to getting his “black hat,” meaning he would be a certified miner. While coal mining is definitely a job for the hale and hearty, Davis said his son also had a decidedly soft streak in him.
“Cory was a great kid — kind, bighearted, kind of softhearted sometimes,” he said. “He was just getting started where he wanted to be.”
As Lauer offered condolences to the Davises for the loss of three beloved family members, Tommy asked to make one more comment.
“I just want everybody to know Cory was a great kid,” he said, finally letting the tears flow. “He loved his job and he loved everybody around him.
“And he is going to be missed. Big time.”