ATLANTA - Lloyd Davis, who worked with Martin Luther King's widow to expand Atlanta's King Center and to establish the holiday honoring the civil rights leader, died of cancer Monday in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 79.
A longtime federal housing official, Mr. Davis came to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change around 1980 as executive vice president and chief operating officer, working alongside Coretta Scott King to maintain her husband's legacy. Later, he was executive director of the federal King Holiday Commission.
"He and Mrs. King were incredibly close," his stepdaughter, Tracy Reid, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They just relied on each other for support."
In 1983, after President Ronald Reagan established the King federal holiday, Mr. Davis became executive director of the King Holiday Commission to promote, oversee, and raise money for the observance.
It was officially celebrated for the first time at the federal level on Jan. 20, 1986. As the commission's executive director, Mr. Davis worked to get the holiday legally observed in all 50 states.
Before coming to the King Center, Mr. Davis worked for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, helping to press for minority business development, his family said.
A native of Chicago, Mr. Davis earned degrees from DePaul University and Loyola University in Chicago.
He and his wife, Mary, married in 1965 and had a daughter, Leigh. Mr. Davis's stepson, Steven Kirk, said he and his mother, who was white, were brave to marry and move into an all-white Chevy Chase neighborhood in the 1960s. "Two families moved off the street when we moved in," Kirk said.