In Memoriam – David O. Davis (1933–2016)

Davis and Taveras pic
ASNR Founding President Juan M. Taveras (left) with David O. Davis

David Oliver Davis, MD, past President of the American Society of Neuroradiology (ASNR), died at his home in McLean, Virginia on November 29, 2016 after a long battle with Parkinson disease. He was born the son of Oliver and Marie (Collignon) Davis on June 25, 1933 in Danville, Illinois. As a teenager, he was an accomplished hunter, played on the football team, and graduated first in his class at Schlarman High School. He received his undergraduate education at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, graduating in 1954. He subsequently graduated from St. Louis University School of Medicine in 1958. He and his high school sweetheart, Agnes Layden, began a 61-year marriage in Hoopeston, Illinois on December 26, 1955.

After an internship at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Staten Island and a radiology residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, he served a 2-year neuroradiology fellowship with Juan Taveras at the Neurological Institute and remained on the staff. In 1965, when Taveras assumed the Chairmanship of Radiology at the Edward Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University, he invited Davis to accompany him as Director of Neuroradiology. At Mallinckrodt, Davis established an excellent fellowship program, earned great respect from the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, began significant investigations, and built friendships with neuroradiologists around the country, particularly with Hans Newton at the University of California, San Francisco.

Davis left St. Louis to join the Department of Radiology at the University of Utah and eventually moved to George Washington University, where he was Director of Neuroradiology and subsequently Professor and Chairman of the Department of Radiology.  The Davis family lived in the Watergate Apartments for 22 years. His 5 daughters ran a wildly successful hot dog stand in front of the Watergate for 4 summers in the 1970s.  Agnes launched a successful real estate enterprise, not only in the DC area, but also on Captiva Island in Florida.

A wag once said “the public memory is 6 weeks.” For this reason, Davis’ many contributions to the ASNR and to organized radiology certainly deserve recounting.  While he was a Past President of ASNR, his most important service to the Society was as a “senior statesman,” representing the Society as it pursued some of its most important issues during the turbulent years of 1980–2000.  Facing the Society in those years were competition from non-fellowship trained radiologists and other physicians to interpret neuroradiology studies, and the question of whether neuroradiologists should train non-neuroradiologists in the performance of cerebral angiography and interventional neuroradiology. These issues resulted in a push to create a Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) in neuroradiology. This met with considerable opposition within the ASNR, organized radiology, various specialty certifying boards, and the American Hospital Association.

Davis was a major activist in lobbying for the CAQ in neuroradiology.  Time after time he presented what was an unpopular argument before the Society—at the Radiology Summit—and before a hostile American Board of Radiology, but his diplomacy and personal integrity were major factors in achieving that goal.  In spite of his unpopular cause, he was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the American College of Radiology (ACR) and was an effective voice for neuroradiology in that body.  The fact that he was respected as a radiologist and was personally well-liked was a major factor in the ASNR’s success in establishing a CAQ.

The fledgling American Journal of Neuroradiology (AJNR) was originally owned and published by the American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS). As a member of the Executive Council of the ARRS, Davis was an important liaison between the ARRS and the AJNR.  As Chair of the ASNR Publications Committee, he handled the delicate negotiations between ARRS and ASNR, which resulted in the AJNR’s successful venture into self-publication.  He also oversaw the subsequent development of the journal with his wise fiscal and managerial expertise.

In my years on the Executive Committee and as Editor-in-Chief of the AJNR, whenever a thorny issue of turf arose, the decision was usually to “let Dave handle it.”  He never refused a mandate, often accepting challenges in which he differed from the views of the Society, but which he pursued because he felt they would benefit the Society and improve patient care.

There is a devoted cadre of ASNR members who trained under Davis.   They recall his devotion to developing our specialty in its early days with innovations such as the “Davis rake” and the “Davis needle.”  He was a stickler for impeccable radiographic technique and safe performance of invasive procedures. No matter where he practiced, clinicians sought his opinion above those of all others because of his astute observations, his innovative ideas, and because he delivered them all with confidence and a fine sense of humor.

There were few members of the ASNR with greater personal and professional respect than Davis.  He would never seek an honor, and his curriculum vitae was pried from him with great resistance in order to nominate him for the ASNR Gold Medal, which was awarded to him in 2002. Beginning in 2000, illness crept up insidiously and George Washington University awarded him emeritus status in 2010.

Davis was devoted to his family and instilled in his 5 daughters a love of travel. He treated them and their children to serious tennis lessons, skiing, road trips throughout the western United States, and taught them to throw a football with a perfect spiral.  Nineteen grandchildren arrived between 1987 and 2001.  Many grandkids only knew that Grandpa was “ill” with what was eventually diagnosed as Parkinson Disease. Nevertheless, he and Agnes took nearly the “whole pack” (27) on family vacations, touring Ireland in 2006 and Nicaragua in 2012, and annually hosted the family in Captiva at Christmastime.

In May of 2015, Dave and Agnes moved into an assisted living facility in McLean, where he died on November 29, 2016. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown, where 4 of his 5 daughters had been married. Prior to the mass, Dr. Michael Newman, his friend and personal physician, eulogized Davis as “a Midwesterner with a huge presence who … held himself to the highest of standards and expected no less from others …. He was smart—very smart—and intuitive, whether interviewing someone to recruit, mulling over a clinical problem, or designing a research project with a “why not?” approach. He was a leader at George Washington Medical Center and a leader in professional societies and organizations of radiology and neuroradiology. His manner was direct, honest, and supportive, often using sardonic wit to make a point. He was always respectful and, when appropriate, critical in an instructive manner and never demeaning.”

Neuroradiology has lost a leader whose impact on the specialty will be felt for many years. Those of us fortunate enough to have known him personally have lost a wonderful friend.

Written by Michael Huckman

In Memoriam – David O. Davis (1933–2016)