Hamilton S. Davis, Anesthesiology: Davis
Hamilton Davis, “Ham” to his friends and colleagues, was one of those rare individuals whose sense of humor was as great as his sense of duty. The diligence and tenacity with which he pursued his goals was always tempered with kindness and the ability to laugh, especially at himself. His professional interests exceeded his specialized field of anesthesiology, in which he excelled, to include all aspects of medicine, particularly the history of medicine. Personally, his abiding interest was his wife and family, to whom he was devoted. This devotion was particularly evident in his continued support and concern for his partially disabled younger brother. However, his compassion extended far outside the family and was exhibited by his generous, charitable support of numerous social causes and his impatience with discrimination in any form.
A large part of Hamilton's wide range of interests was the result of his “growing up” in a combined academic and sports environment. His parents, Karl E. and Sophia Davis were closely involved in collegiate athletics. Ham's father was athletic director at Western Reserve University and the University of Pittsburgh. Undoubtedly this exposure accounts for the fact that as a student at Colgate University Ham was both the president of his class and an honorable mention All-American end on the football team coached by Andy Kerr. His academic achievements were not impeded by these numerous campus activities, and he graduated from Colgate cum laude in 1942. Ham remained active in Colgate alumni affairs for his entire life, and he was the recipient of Colgate's “Maroon Citation” in 1967 as a distinguished alumnus.
Following graduation from Colgate, he was accepted at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in 1942 and graduated in 1945. After internship at Grasslands Hospital in New York, the young Davis entered the military service and was assigned to duty at Camp Lee, Virginia. It was here that his interest in medicine was distracted by a pretty, pleasant, and efficient army nurse, Marjorie Jean Wright. This meeting, we are told, took place
― 59 ―during a game of pool in the Officers' Club and explains the presence of a pool table in Dr. Davis' house for many years in Davis.
Following his discharge from the U.S. Army in 1946, Davis returned to Grasslands Hospital, Valhalla, New York for his anesthesia residency. Then, after a year of private practice in Grand Junction, Colorado, Ham was enticed back to Western Reserve University as the director of the Anesthesia Service at Lakeside Hospital, where he remained from 1953 to 1966. In September of that year, he became one of the founders of the new medical school at the University of California, Davis, when he was named professor and chairman of its Department of Anesthesiology. He retired as chairman of the department in 1982 but continued working as a professor of anesthesiology until his retirement and onset of his illness in 1985.
Ham was nationally and internationally known and respected in the Society of Anesthesiologists. He was a member of numerous societies and was a strong supporter of the American College of Anesthesiology. In that group he had been instrumental, as a member of the Board of Governors and chairman of the Oral Examination Committee, in upgrading its examination system so that certification by that organization became recognized as evidence of clinical competence in anesthesia. He was also chairman of the Standards Committee of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and played a central role in standardization of much of the presently used anesthesia and respiratory therapy equipment. Davis' service, teaching, and clinical activities at the University of California, Davis are far too numerous to list. Of central importance, however, was his chairmanship of the Curriculum Committee, and his contributions to the original “core” curriculum of the new School of Medicine were of inestimable value. His experience from Western Reserve University served him well in his role in development of the new school. Western Reserve was one of the first schools in the world to initiate a “core curriculum,” and its success was subsequently emulated by others. Ham was also a member of the surgical division's coordinating committee and of the Medical Center's Education and Operating Room Committees, as well as a member of numerous other medical-education committees. He was elected chief of staff at the University of California, Davis, Sacramento Medical Center in 1980-81. In the education and training of anesthesiology residents, Ham, a perfectionist himself, demanded perfection. However, he never asked more of his residents and staff than he contributed. He never permitted shortcuts or compromises that might jeopardize the welfare of the patients.
Ham's early clinical research interests were concerned with the management of respiratory problems in patients with poliomyelitis. He later worked with Dr. Hingson in mass inoculations of poliomyelitis and other vaccines via jet injector. He published extensively on the effects of anesthetic agents
― 60 ―on the reticular activating system and the effects of anesthesia and shock on intermediate metabolism. His most recent investigations and, unfortunately, ones that had not been completed prior to his untimely death in 1986, were investigations into malignant hyperthermia, a bane of the anesthesiologist's existence.
Ham was constantly a champion of the underprivileged and disadvantaged. Indeed, this aspect of his character was evident long before liberal causes were fashionable. Early in his career he directed a well-baby clinic in a rural ghetto, worked on community economic commissions and welfare consults, and frequently spent part of his vacations working as a camp physician. Ham and Marge were always ready to help and, indeed, to take distressed individuals into their home. A tribute to Dr. Davis printed in the Journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society in 1973 concluded with the following statement, “As long as there are physicians like Hamilton S. Davis in the field of anesthesiology, the specialty need not concern itself with the image it projects to medical students or to anyone else.” We can add little to this statement.
Robert J. Bolt John H. Eisele Jr. John A. Reitan