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David Bailey | Musician leaves legacy of living life to fullest

October 11, 2010 12:36 am


Former Stafford County resident David Bailey (right), with his children Kelcey and Cameron, died Oct. 2 after battling brain cancer for 14 years.



Doctors gave him six months to live.

David Bailey went home and defiantly wrote a song called "Live Forever," about the doctor's prediction.

And don't you know: I'm going to live forever

The software marketing consultant took the diagnosis as a chance to live, quitting his day job to write and sing songs. And for 14 years, Bailey offered the hope of living forever, while working at the frenetic pace of one who knew life could end tomorrow.

He recorded 23 albums, wrote hundreds of songs and performed around the world.

Some dubbed him "the hope guy."

On Oct. 2, 14 years after doctors pronounced the grim prediction, Bailey died from brain cancer.

But as his loved ones plan a memorial concert for Tuesday, Oct. 19, they say Bailey will live forever through his music and the lives he's touched.

"He'll continue on through his CDs and those kinds of things," said the Rev. Carson Rhyne, one of Bailey's former pastors. "But I think that a big part of his legacy will be that there's a tomorrow, there's a hope, don't let something like a brain tumor get you down."


Bailey was living in Stafford County with his wife, Leslie, and two young children when the headaches started. At first, he chalked the pain up to the stress of the corporate world.

But the pain grew unbearable, and he passed out. Leslie drove him to the hospital, and two days later doctors removed a tumor the size of a baseball.

Within months, a second tumor grew. Bailey had glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.

"His diagnosis was exceedingly grim," Leslie said.

Doctors told him to put his affairs in order.

The couple, both lifelong Presbyterians, relied on their Christian faith to get them through the turmoil.

At one point, Bailey grew angry with God. He went for a walk, shouting "Why me?" to the heavens.

Ten years later, Bailey described his feelings: "It wasn't a bad question, just a useless one. I realized that even if I knew, it wouldn't change what was important, namely: What was I going to do with the time I have? It was an easy change, not 'Why?' but 'What now?'"

He finished the walk by writing the song "To the World," scribbling the lyrics on a dollar bill, the only piece of paper he had with him.

The song starts:


Bailey quit his day job and became a singer-songwriter.

It was a leap of faith, but Leslie supported him wholeheartedly.

Sharing your husband with the world is hard. Sharing your husband when you don't know how much time he has left is even harder. But Leslie believed her husband had a calling from God.

Bailey started playing guitar as a teenager living in Germany. He was born in Beirut to a pair of Presbyterian missionaries. Music was a hobby, a passion.

But after cancer, it became his lifeline. Bailey wrote songs daily, penning lyrics on facing death, chemotherapy, family, coffee and airport security screenings.

He mainly performed in churches and coffee houses, quickly building a loyal following. He also sang at summertime youth conferences at Montreat in North Carolina.

"He's one of those rare songwriters that really had something to say," said Donny Holcombe, who produced Bailey's CDs in his Spotsylvania County recording studio.

"At first, we worked at a frantic pace," Holcombe said. "I was thinking we did not have a big window of time."

Cancer survivors, especially, responded to Bailey's music, and he wrote songs for the American Cancer Society and books for the cancer center at Duke University Medical Center.

In 2006, Bailey said: "Cancer saved my life: It showed me how precious the gift of time is. It forced me to overcome some fears and pursue a passion. It drove me to want to make a difference in the world and in other people's lives by sharing hope."


By 2000, Bailey was cancer-free. He was featured on "48 Hours" and in The Free Lance-Star.

He toured often, wearing his trademark tie-dye bandana to hide the scars on his head.

He played guitar with the dexterity of James Taylor, wrote songs with the complexity of Bruce Cockburn's.

But the message was all David Bailey.

He once said: "The story is surviving, and we all want to survive, whether it's an illness or unemployment or divorce or abuse. Deep down, we want to survive."

His signature song was "One More Day," and Bailey had a leather bracelet branded with the words, to remind him each day was a gift.

But for Leslie, her husband's most important message was found in another song title, "Live the Time."

"That was really our family's mantra," she said.

They made time for family vacations, when they turned off the TV, the phone and the computer and just enjoyed each other's company.

Bailey was often touring, but when he was home he was completely focused on his wife and children, Leslie said.

In 2002, the family moved to Charlottesville after 12 years in Stafford.

After a while, Leslie began to think Bailey had beaten cancer.

"He told me once that he always expected it to return," she said. "I don't know that it was a shadow over him, but it was always in the back of his mind."

And in November 2008, after Bailey returned from a European tour, he got dizzy, forgot words and couldn't find his pitch.

He knew the cancer had returned.


Through more brain surgeries and treatments, Bailey kept writing songs and performing. When his head grew tender from the treatments, he traded in the tie-dye bandanas for hats Leslie knitted out of soft yarn.

"You'd think, 'Golly, how many times can this thing keep going?'" said Rhyne, who had been the Baileys' pastor at Summit Presbyterian Church in North Stafford. "But he didn't let it get him down. It wasn't about David, it was about something far bigger than him."

Bailey recorded a CD with Holcombe a few months ago. Over the years, the producer and singer rarely talked about cancer. This time, Bailey could barely walk or move his hand.

Within weeks, Holcombe would visit Bailey in a hospice home.

"His human spirit was that he never looked at it like an end game, he always looked at it like he was going to bounce back," Holcombe said.

They talked about music, and Bailey joked about his situation.

Spotsylvania resident and longtime friend Beth Skewis also visited Bailey in hospice.

"He still had a wicked sense of humor," she said.

On Oct. 2, Bailey died. He was 44.

"We got 11 years we weren't supposed to have," Leslie said. "That's a gift."

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973

David Bailey's family and friends will hold a memorial service and concert Oct. 19 at Meadows Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville. The memorial will feature performances by Bailey's son, Cameron, and close friend Donny Holcombe. Bailey's daughter, Kelcey, suggests guests wear tie-dye.

David M. Bailey was born in Beirut to Kenneth and Ethel Bailey, Presbyterian missionaries. He attended Grove City College, where he met his wife, Leslie, while touring with the choir. David worked with computers, then became a professional musician. He is survived by his wife and two children, Kelcey, a college freshman, and Cameron, a high school junior. He has recorded 23 albums, but efforts are under way to create a final CD of songs Bailey recorded in the past year. For details on Bailey's work, visit

--Amy Flowers Umble

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.