Good teachers, good friends: Tom Davis

Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Taught at Puget Sound 1973-1996

You won’t find Tom Davis in Jones Hall these days, but the longtime Puget Sound dean still holds “office hours.”

“I’m on campus three times a week for noontime basketball and twice a week for tennis,” laughs Davis. He and now-retired physical education professor Joe Peyton started playing hoops at noon back in 1973. These days, about 25 faculty, staff, and alumni rotate in and out of their thrice-weekly games.

Davis played basketball as a high school student in North Middleton, Ky., and at Ohio’s Denison University. The 5-foot-9 point guard was a player-coach during his five years of postgraduate work at Cambridge University.

“My first memory is of seeing a basketball game, and I got my first basketball hoop when I was 5. This sport has been part of my life forever,” he says. “Eventually, the guys are going to say, ‘Hey, Tom, we don’t think you ought to be playing anymore.’ I don’t know what I’ll do when that day comes.”

Pickup games aside, Puget Sound remains an important part of Davis’ life. He fondly recalls his two-plus decades as dean.

“Things changed dramatically while I was there,” he says. “Puget Sound went from a school that was trying to be everything to everybody to becoming the focused, residential, liberal arts college it is today.”

Davis took a leadership role in ending the school’s many small graduate programs and off-campus business courses. He says the decision was crucial to the school’s advancement, but it met with considerable resistance.

“The trustees had determined the direction we needed to go, and I helped us get there. Sometimes that meant helping faculty members and students see that, while these decisions were painful, they were in the best interest of our long-term success.”

Faculty recruitment was one of Davis’ favorite parts of his job and he takes pride in the quality of faculty he was able to play some role in bringing to Puget Sound over the years. He was tremendously pleased when the university recently named an outstanding-teaching award for him.
“Hiring season was the most exciting time of each year for me,” he says. “We always saw so many bright, promising candidates. We got hundreds of applications and I always read files, interviewed the finalists and helped sell candidates on our school,” he says. “I never got tired of hearing them talk about their fields and their excitement for learning and teaching.”

While the majority of his time was dedicated to faculty issues, Davis kept in contact with students by teaching a freshman advising section every other year. Even after he stepped down as dean in 1994, Davis stayed on as a mathematics professor for two years.

“It was my way to get to spend time with ‘normal’ students—especially freshmen,” says Davis. “As the dean, one spent time with student leaders and The Trail editors and a few students who had complaints. So, it was fun for me to go into the classroom and hear students talk about how they were being affected by the decisions that various faculty and administration committees were making.”

The Davises live in a water-view home in University Place. Tom credits his wife, Pat, a retired mathematics instructor at Pierce College, with much of his career success.

“She really did half the work all those years,” he says.

The two travel—often to the East Coast to see their children, Nancy and Tim, and their families—and attend arts events at the university and throughout the community. The Davises regularly attend Daedalus, a group through which Puget Sound faculty share their research.

“I miss the daily interaction with faculty,” says Davis of his retirement years. “Sure, I see some of them on the basketball and tennis courts and at other university events, but it’s not the same. I miss the teamwork that comes when bright people work together to solve problems.

“That aside, I can’t say I have any regrets,” he says. “It was a great opportunity for me, and I’m pleased to be able to stay in touch with so many of my former colleagues.”

Interested alumni can e-mail Tom Davis at “Good Teachers, Good Friends” is a regular Arches feature.