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M.C. Davis, Former Gambler Who Started Florida Conservation Preserve, Dies

M.C. DAVIS: I was somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.


That voice belonged to M.C. Davis. He was born poor, became a gambler and made a fortune buying land and mineral rights. And despite his hard luck beginnings and political inclinations, he established the largest block of privately-owned conservation land in the southeastern U.S.


He was already very ill when our colleague, Melissa Block, introduced us to him last month. Marion Clifton Davis died Saturday. His legacy is in his native Florida panhandle, the Nokuse Plantation. Davis planted 8 million seedlings there on tens of thousands of acres, and recently, his efforts took on a new urgency.


MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Can we talk about your health?

DAVIS: Well, we can. Not a lot different from most folks. I'm dying, as we all are, and it's well-advanced. I mean it's not anything - there's 300-something thousand people right now in the United States that have fourth-stage lung cancer. So, hey, it's just nature's way.

SIEGEL: And as Davis told Melissa, he was OK with nature.


BLOCK: I would think it would be a very satisfying thing to look around at this land, all these trees, think about those thousands of tortoises that have been relocated here and think about all of this outliving you.

DAVIS: Well, that is the purpose. And you know, if there's such a thing as being perpetual, this will be here no matter how stupid our species gets and how much it degrades this, it will start over. But I'm hoping that we're capable of leaving some huge biological warehouses if and when our country fails - and all of them do sooner or later - that hopefully the impacts wouldn't be total if nature just doesn't have to start from scratch.

SIEGEL: M.C. Davis, gambler turned planter. He was 70.

CORNISH: Proceeds from his estate will also go to the environmental education center he created, the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, which hosts thousands of Florida schoolchildren every year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.