UNMC News

Longtime UNMC clinician/teacher, Dr. Cal Davis, dies at age 82

Memorial service will be Saturday at St. Cecilia's Cathedral

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 30 at St. Cecilia’s Cathedral, 701 N. 40th St., for John Calvin Davis III, M.D., a longtime internal medicine faculty member at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Dr. Davis, who worked at UNMC from 1961 to 1997, died Oct. 29 in Estes Park, Colo., following a prolonged illness related to heart failure. He was 82.

An Omaha native, Dr. Davis was the son and grandson of Omaha physicians. He earned his medical degree from UNMC in 1957 and completed his residency training in internal medicine and infectious disease at the University of Illinois.

He was the fourth full-time faculty member of the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine and was a highly revered clinician and teacher of medical students and residents, said Tom Tape, M.D., professor and chief of the division of general internal medicine for UNMC.

“Cal was an outstanding role model of the consummate academic physician educator,” Dr. Tape said. “He maintained an extensive personal library of medical literature. He also was a master clinician and taught me many clinical pearls.

“Each year, Cal would eagerly anticipate the latest edition of ‘Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine’ and would read the entire tome of several thousand pages from cover to cover. I will miss his wisdom, friendship, and wry sense of humor.”

Dr. Davis served as chairman of the department of preventive medicine from 1965 to 1971. He also served as chief of the infectious disease section from 1969 to 1991. He held two key posts for the UNMC College of Medicine, serving as assistant dean of admissions and students (1986-95) and assistant dean for student and minority affairs (1995-97).  He was named associate professor emeritus when he retired in 1997.

Although he formally retired in 1997, Dr. Davis returned to campus several months each year as a volunteer teacher.

Dr. Davis loved the outdoors and enjoyed hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colo. He eventually moved to Estes Park after his retirement.

A recovering alcoholic, Dr. Davis was active at UNMC and in Colorado in providing help to others going through recovery. In Estes Park, he served five years on the board of Harmony Foundation, one of the longest running and most successful treatment programs in the world.

“Dr. Davis was an avid supporter of the work we do with recovering health care professionals,” said Susan Smith, manager, UNMC Faculty/Employee Assistance Program. “As a physician in recovery, he always made himself available to other recovering health care professionals and was a staunch advocate of impaired physicians returning to the workplace after treatment.” 

Survivors include a niece, Mary Lou Hansen, Council Bluffs, and her husband, Richard, and his longtime friend, Ellen Jenks of Omaha.

A memorial service was held in Estes Park on Nov. 2. He will be buried in Omaha.

What others are saying about Dr. Cal Davis:

“To me, his passing is equivalent to burning down a library. He was such an intellectual. He loved to hike. During a series of walks together he discussed medieval history, botany and NBA basketball. A genuine human being. I will miss him.”  

Anne Kessinger, M.D., professor, internal medicine-oncology/hematology

“When I was his student in medical school, I valued his teaching and advice. When I joined the faculty, I found him a source of clinical wisdom and a mentor. He has always been an inspiration to me as a physician and teacher, and – throughout it all – a dear friend.”

Robert Wigton, M.D., retired associate dean, graduate medical education, College of Medicine

“Cal Davis was a dedicated educator who after retirement returned frequently to the College of Medicine and attended on general medicine wards for many years. As assistant dean for students, he was a strong advocate for students providing needed support and counseling. He will be missed.”

Gerald Moore, M.D., senior associate dean for academic affairs, College of Medicine

“He was such a gentle person and a gentleman. He was a thoughtful, helpful person. He knew his business very well – both internal medicine and infectious diseases.”

Robert Ecklund, M.D., professor emeritus, internal medicine, and did his intern and residency training with Dr. Davis at the University of Illinois

“Cal and I were hiking buddies for years. One summer we logged almost 300 miles together, hiking once a week. He taught me everything I know about the Rocky Mountains. An extremely patient teacher, he never seemed to mind having to reteach me most of the names of the wildflowers, birds, and peaks each hiking season. On the trail, he regaled me with recitations of poems and long passages from Shakespeare's works, some of which he'd memorized at prep school. We also laughed a lot; Cal had a sly, somewhat twisted sense of humor. He was a true gentleman and scholar, seeming, in many ways, untouched by modern-day pop culture and technology. His absence leaves a big hole in my heart.

Edith De Lay, copy editor and friend of Dr. Davis from Pinewood Springs, Colo. 

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