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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.
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.
Nelson AR. James E. Davis, MD. JAMA. 1998;279(4):334. doi:10.1001/jama.279.4.334