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January 28, 1998

James E. Davis, MD

JAMA. 1998;279(4):334. doi:10.1001/jama.279.4.334

James E. Davis, MD, past president of the American Medical Association (1988-1989), died suddenly on October 27, 1997, of an apparent myocardial infarction, while carrying out some administrative duties on the fifth floor of his hospital. A consummate leader in his profession, Jim Davis actively pursued his life goals of patient care and community service up to the day he died at age 79.

Dr Davis (American Medical News file photograph.)

Jimmy Davis (as Margaret, his wife of 53 years, often called him, saying it almost as one word) will be remembered as the AMA president who called upon his colleagues to devote themselves to voluntary service in their communities. While he was stalwart in his defense of professional freedom, he also recognized the obligations that such freedom entails. In his inaugural address,1 he called on physicians to give a tithe of their time in the service of others within their communities. As examples, he asked medical organizations to form ombudsman committees to bring the public and their members closely together for their mutual benefit, and he asked individual physicians to be involved as volunteers for the betterment of their local institutions as well as being charitable in the care of their patients.

Jim Davis lived his message. Less than 2 weeks before his death, he hosted the 10th annual awards presentation of City of Medicine USA, a program that he was instrumental in founding and that changed the nature of the Durham, NC, community in which he lived.

James E. Davis was born in Goldsboro, NC, in 1918. He was educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received his MD degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and practiced surgery at Durham Regional Hospital, where he was chair of the Department of Surgery from 1976 to 1980. He was working at this hospital when he collapsed and died.

While a student at Chapel Hill, Jim set the Southern Conference track record for the 1-mile run: 4:12. That record stood for 28 years. He was also president of the student council.

Dr Davis was elected vice speaker of the AMA House of Delegates in 1981 and quickly demonstrated his skill at parliamentary procedure by maintaining order and fairness with a style that was leavened by large doses of humor and a signature Southern accent. As a parliamentarian, he wrote the book—literally. In 1992, Jim published Davis' Rules of Order: An Authoritative Guide to Parliamentary Procedure, which remains the parliamentary authority for the AMA, the American Society of Internal Medicine, and other medical organizations. In 1984 he was elected AMA speaker of the house, and in 1987 he was elected president-elect by unanimous consent.

His surgical colleagues in the AMA House of Delegates identified him as the ideal leader to assist in the formation of a new organization to focus on socioeconomic matters and to advocate for the general surgeon. He became the founding president of the American Society of General Surgeons in 1992 and served as their elder statesman until his death.

Dr Davis was past president of the North Carolina Medical Society, founding chairman of the City of Medicine Program in Durham, past president of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, and a trustee of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. He was recipient of the Man of the Year civic award from the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce in 1988.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret Royall Davis of Durham, and 2 sons, Kenneth Royall Davis of Chapel Hill and George Harrison Davis of Athens, Ga.

Davis JE. Let's work together! a call to America's physicians and the public we serve.  JAMA.1988;260:834-836.Google Scholar