I first met Larry Davis when he applied for our Cornea and Contact Lens residency program in 1987. He was an excellent candidate, who was in the process of graduating, with honors, from the Indiana University School of Optometry. From the residency, a lifelong friendship formed, and I’m proud of what he has been able to accomplish in his optometric career. David Schanzlin, MD, Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Saint Louis University (SLU), was interested in hiring an optometrist full-time for a faculty position with an emphasis on cornea and specialty contact lenses. Larry was an obvious choice, as he had been very involved in the specialty contact lens care at SLU during his year as resident. Likewise, several years later when he had a desire to pursue a tenure-track position at the College of Optometry, it only made sense that he would elevate our faculty via his exceptional clinical ability and proven track record in clinical research. Incredulously, the search committee selected another applicant. Fortunately, as he had done over 10 years previously with me, founding Dean Jerry Christensen had been impressed with Larry and created a second position for which he was selected. This became fortuitous when, in 2000, only one year after he had received tenure, Dean Jack Bennett – who was in poor health and having to retire – recommended Larry Davis as acting Dean. This was a tremendous compliment to Larry, who Jack recognized had very high standards and would be a very calm and objective presence in what was a quite polarized faculty at that time. The rest, of course, was history.
His first formidable task was accreditation. We were on a three-year probationary accreditation, due in part to the fact that he was our fifth Dean (counting two interim Deans) in five years. Although Jack Bennett had initiated the process, there was much work to be done if we were to achieve full seven-year accreditation. Larry Davis coordinated the process admirably, and we achieved full accreditation which was so vital to our recruitment efforts, for both students and faculty. He has since led the College through two more successful seven-year accreditation efforts and truly merits an “A” in accreditation.
Of course, he has established quite a track record of leadership during his time at UMSL. He has served with distinction as President of the Heart of America Contact Lens Society, the National Board of Examiners in Optometry, and the Saint Louis Optometric Society. He has also been honored by these and other organizations. As a faculty member, he has always been dedicated and has been honored as the Professor of the Year. He continues to teach as one of our primary care clinical instructors.
I can honestly say that over the years we have not agreed on everything. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been in his office, typically on matters pertaining to student issues with faculty for which I was deeply concerned. Often, I wanted him to “push a button” and make efforts to dismiss or discipline a faculty member who was not dedicated, objective, or empathetic to students. Whereas we often did not come to agreement on these concerns, I can state definitely that he always listened and never allowed it to impact his feelings toward me personally or our friendship. I, in turn, never questioned his honesty or objectivity in any of these issues.
His legacy will always be the Patient Care Center (PCC). After numerous efforts throughout a period of several decades to obtain a very badly needed new facility, it was Larry Davis who developed a scaled-down plan for a clinic-only facility. It was a very well-thought out plan that included how this facility would be financed. As a result, it was approved at every level of the UM system and serves as an outstanding center of clinical education, an exceptional recruitment tool, and a crown jewel of the UMSL campus. With the PCC, in combination with the hiring of seven new, student-driven, and very dedicated faculty in the past three years (i.e., the “New Faculty Dream Team”), the College of Optometry has achieved a level of excellence that is unparalleled in my 37 years as a member of the faculty. It all begins with a committed and dedicated leader. Congratulations to Dr. Larry Davis for 25 years of excellence.