Rex D. Davis, former director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) who started out by arresting “moonshiners,” died Jan. 7, 2008, of complications from an infection. He was 83.
Joining the Army Air Force after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Davis was a bombardier, flew 33 combat missions, and received a Purple Heart.
After receiving a law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1949, he became a “revenuer” — raiding stills and busting barrels of illegal alcohol.
In 1970, Davis became director of the ATF, which was then upgraded from a division of the Internal Revenue Service to an independent bureau within the Treasury Department. According to The Washington Post, “Davis turned ATF into the country’s chief investigator of political terrorists and organized criminals in the booze business.”
Davis was a 1965-66 visiting student at the Woodrow Wilson School. Retiring from government in 1978, he went on to head three trade associations in the alcoholic-beverages industry. He was a strong supporter of the Brady campaign against gun violence.Davis is survived by his wife of 29 years, Amelia, and two daughters from his first marriage, which ended in divorce.