Dr. William Conan Davis

032422-Dr.Davis-350x425.jpgDr. Davis led a remarkable career as a researcher, food chemist and educator. His career was set in motion when his father took him on a road trip from the family’s home in Valdosta, Georgia, to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There, the young Davis attended a workshop with George Washington Carver and Henry Ford. Seeing African American professors and scientists in action inspired Davis to become a chemist.

Dr. Davis created instant mash potatoes, soft-serve ice cream and industrial glue. He standardized medical tests for insulin and growth hormones. Working with a St. Philip’s College colleague, the late Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Lanier Byrd, Dr. Davis studied the characteristics of drinking water and co-created the formula for Dasani brand water.

William Conan Davis was born on August 22, 1926, in Waycross, Georgia to Kince Charles and Laura Jane Davis. He graduated from a segregated high school and went to New York City to further his education. He lived with his brother, the late actor and civil rights activist, Ossie Davis, and briefly attended the City College of New York (www.ccny.cuny.edu).

Davis went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Talladega College (Ala.) (talladega.edu) in 1956 and a Master’s of Science in Organic Chemistry from the Tuskegee Institute (tuskegee.edu) in 1958, where he was a George Washington Carver Research Fellow.

He was determined to pursue a Ph.D. in research—an extremely difficult goal for a black student at the time. The University of Idaho (uidaho.edu) was the only institution willing to accept him as a research-track grad student. His thesis was A Study of Sloughing in the Potato Tuber (1965).

With a Ph.D. in hand, Dr. Davis began to explore human health, studying hay fever antigens, learning radioimmunoassay techniques, and spent nearly 15 years as director of United Medical Laboratories in Portland, Oregon. He helped establish a free medical clinic in Portland’s Albina neighborhood before relocating to San Antonio, Texas. From 1979 to 1982, Davis was a research associate in Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio (uthscsa.edu) and, in 1983, he became a chemistry professor at St. Philip’s College (alamo.edu/spc).

Dr. Davis served as department chair of Natural Sciences, starting in 1996. He was named professor emeritus upon his retirement in 2009. In 2012, the college science building was named in his honor, the William C. Davis Science Building. On the day of the building renaming ceremony, Dr. Davis awarded the college a $20,000 endowment toward scholarships for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students. 

Davis enrolled in the U.S. Army Officer Training Corps while a student at Talladega College. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, he served during the Korean War and was awarded with a Purple Heart in 1953.