On December 6, 2019, at the Indiana University Memorial Union in Bloomington, Dr. Larry Davis, dean of the UMSL College of Optometry, received the Indiana University School of Optometry Foley House Distinguished Alumni Award. This is the highest honor given to a graduate of the School of Optometry, and Dr. Davis becomes just the fifth individual (out of several thousand graduates) to receive this prestigious award. The event was held in front of a large audience of prominent alumni, faculty and students.
Dr. Davis was quite humbled at receiving such a high honor. He thanked his wife, Janice, his daughter Sydni, and son-in-law Jordan for their support. He also recognized that any success he has achieved has been a collaborative effort: “If there is anything lasting that I’ve accomplished it is largely because of the dozens of excellent colleagues, staff and students.”
Interestingly, Dr. Davis also commented how fortunate he was to be in the position he is today. An Illinois native, he intended to attend the Illinois College of Optometry. He felt compelled to at least apply to Indiana University. He just had a feeling about IU, but he was interviewed in his hometown and didn’t get a chance to visit campus. An alternate, he was admitted one month before classes began in the fall of 1983. He then achieved excellence at the School of Optometry and was a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a number of courses . . . but one of his biggest breaks was not being asked to TA the Geometric Optics course. Instead, renowned professor Dr. Clifford Brooks (co-author with Dr. Irvin Borish of THE optics text entitled “System for Ophthalmic Dispensing”) asked Dr. Davis to be his TA. That opened doors and established a lifelong connection. Dr. Brooks, who is retiring this year, was also in attendance to receive an award.
While in optometry school, Dr. Davis was inspired by his contact lens professor, notably in the area of rigid contact lens design. That resulted in his interest in the UMSL Cornea and Contact Lens residency program. He became the second individual (after Dr. Vinita Henry) to complete this program. From UMSL, he served on the faculty of St. Louis University’s Department of Ophthalmology, prior to joining the College of Optometry as a faculty member in the early 1990s. What happened next, however, was a total surprise, as Dr. Davis comments: “The next major opportunity…although it probably did not feel like an opportunity at the time, was provided by Jack Bennett, IU Dean Emeritus, and prior to that served as founding dean of Michigan College of Optometry. Jack spent the first year of his retirement as Dean at UMSL. (When Dr. Bennett became ill and had to step down, he named Dr. Davis acting dean, which ultimately resulted in his present position.) Academic administration was the last thing I’d aspired to pursue. Jack was the influential push that propelled me in that direction.”
As we enter 2020, Dr. Davis will complete his 20th year as dean of the College of Optometry, making him one of the longest tenured deans or presidents of colleges of optometry in North America. His legacy includes the hiring of outstanding faculty, as well as the building of the UMSL Patient Care Center. In addition, an unparalleled collegiality currently exists within – and between – the College faculty, staff and students.
It is very evident that his accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. To receive the highest honor given at your alma mater is a remarkable achievement. And no one was more excited about that than the individual who introduced Dr. Davis for his award, the dean of the Indiana University School of Optometry and renowned researcher, Dr. Joseph Bonanno. Dr. Bonanno stated, “The Foley House Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to an IUSO alum who has spent significant time dedicated to excellence in optometry, has provided brilliant reflections back on the school throughout his or her career, and has reached pre-eminent status in the field of optometry. Dr. Larry Davis fulfills all of these requirements and more. It gives us tremendous pride to bestow this award to Dr. Davis.”