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ORAU’s storyteller in Washington has deep East Tennessee roots

ORAU’s storyteller in Washington has deep East Tennessee roots
Joe Davis

“My family always told me that if you want to make a point, tell a story. If you want them to remember, tell a compelling story.”

Telling the story of ORAU is a big part of what Joe Davis does on a daily basis. As director of external and government affairs, Davis shares the stories of ORAU and its mission, people and role in the regional economy and national scientific advancement with legislators and decision-makers in Washington.

“At the end of the day, we're a not-for-profit company doing extremely important work for a variety of sectors of the federal government. Decisions are made in Washington D.C.,” Davis said. “Having the ability to engage decision makers and policy makers, and explain to them why what we are doing is important for the good of the country, the good of Tennessee and the good of the community, is extremely important to me. And I think it's absolutely critical to our strategic outlook going forward, and continuing every day.”

In telling the story of ORAU over the years, Davis has built strong relationships with Tennessee’s congressional delegation, as well as with lawmakers from the other states across the country where we do work.

“While Tennessee is home to ORAU, our work touches programs and communities across the country.  From research, to education, to health care, to defense, to veterans… if you talk about the work our incredible people do it clearly demonstrates the importance to members of Congress and the government.”

He lives with his wife and children just outside Washington, D.C. in Alexandria, Va. Davis plays in a rock-and-roll band called the Derds, or the Del Ray Dads, named for the area in Alexandria where he lives. He is also a high school baseball umpire and basketball referee when time permits.

Working for ORAU keeps him connected to his East Tennessee roots.

Davis is a 1986 graduate of Harriman High School. At the University of Tennessee, he was a member of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band for about a year-and-a-half, then played as a walk-on for the UT football team. “To this day, I think I’m on the only person ever to form the “T” in the band and run through the “T” as a member of the football team.  I can still play Rocky Top on the trumpet and break a leg kicking a football.”

After graduating in 1990 with a degree in political science, Davis moved to D.C.

His career includes working on political campaigns, public affairs companies, and for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Davis then went to work for Sen. Connie Mack of Florida, serving as deputy staff director for the Senate Conference Committee, which Mack chaired. Following that, he worked for Sen. Spencer Abraham of Michigan before moving to the Department of Energy. Davis was a political appointee working in the Secretary’s Office at DOE and was part of the team that came in at the start of the George W. Bush administration. After more than four years, he left DOE to work for NASA and then a government affairs consulting firm.  It was there he began his work for ORAU. Before long, he was invited to work for the organization.

Davis says working for DOE was like working for a hometown company. His dad worked as a machinist and retired from the weapons manufacturing facility at Y-12. “I still have dad’s pay stubs from a little company called the Clinton Engineering Works,” the precursor to DOE during the Manhattan Project.

“Basically, Oak Ridge put me and my two brothers through college,” Davis said.

His parents both worked in the Secret City, his uncle was among the first set of police officers. Two other uncles worked in Oliver Springs; one ran a grocery store and the other was a police officer. And an aunt once worked for the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies, the original name for ORAU.

“When I tell the story about ORAU and the good work that all of our people are doing, it really draws it back to my family. This is part of me. This is in my DNA, so to speak.”