Back when he was an in-house lawyer for Graco Inc., a Minneapolis manufacturer, co-workers often turned to Darrell Davis for an understanding ear and wise counsel.

"He was the person to go to for sincere, transparent conversation if you were having a rough day," said Heidi Welsch, then a fellow Graco attorney. "You could just go sit in his office. He had a comfort about him. And Darrell just always made everything OK."

He had that same impact on stressed-out law students who needed reassurance that they could succeed, said Donald Lewis, dean of Hamline University's School of Law.

In 2007, after 25 years as a practicing attorney, Davis was named assistant dean responsible for managing law students' lives at Hamline. It was an example, said Lewis, "of people who find their dream job late in life."

Davis was so happy in his work that he would walk around the dean's office, jokingly saying, "Will someone pinch me? I want to make sure this isn't a dream," Lewis said.

But a long respiratory illness and serious car accident sidelined Davis in February 2012 with a medical leave and led to his death on July 6. He was 57.

"Darrell's passing is not only a great loss for his family, friends and church, but for the legal community in Minnesota," said friend and former colleague, lawyer Bob Mattison of Golden Valley.

"In addition to his many other talents and qualities, Darrell was an excellent lawyer who made countless valuable contributions to his employers over many years. His most enduring legacy will be carried by the many students he touched at Hamline Law School."

In Greenville, N.C., where he was born, Davis also touched many lives.

He's remembered as pioneering desegregation in his own gregarious, uplifting way as the only black in his class at Elmhurst Elementary School during the turbulent '60s. That trailblazing continued into high school where the religious teen befriended everyone, his buddies say.

He was even chosen student community ambassador and happily spent six weeks in Finland with a host family, said sister Jacquelyn Thomas of Raleigh, N.C.

In 1977, Davis earned a bachelor's degree in political science from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thomas said Davis' inquisitive, persuasive behavior and intellect led him to University of Minnesota Law School.

His first job was assistant attorney general for Minnesota. He went on to become senior attorney at Honeywell and corporate attorney director at Graco Inc., controlling the firms' product liability.

"He had this exceptional balance to him where he was so disarming. He was so warm and congenial. He was humble," Welsch said. "Yet when working on litigation, he was fierce and very effective."

He was a prankster, too, once rounding up the staff to all resign on April Fools' Day. He had a great sense of humor and an uncontrollable laugh.

"It almost started escaping his mouth before he knew he was smiling," Welsch said. "It was this belly laugh that started bubbling up."

He was highly respected among corporate and minority attorneys and active in professional organizations.

At Hamline, Lewis said, Davis not only kept his office "a safe place for students," but promoted diversity efforts.

On July 6, after saying, "All is well with my soul," he died.

Davis was preceded in death by parents Charles and Julia Davis. Survivors include sister and brother-in-law, Jacquelyn and Alonzo Thomas.

Services have been held.