Memorial service held for Jerry Davis
M. Jerry Davis, RelD—chaplain, educator, mentor, and friend—passed away on November 25 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 68.
A large gathering, including dozens of chaplain colleagues, filled the University Church on Saturday evening, December 2, to remember a man who, as his long-time friend J. Andrew Hamlin, MD, said, “was naturally inclined to identify the best in every person and in every situation—no matter how grim.”
Dr. Davis was widely known throughout the Inland Empire and beyond for his leadership in hospital chaplaincy and clinical pastoral education. He joined Loma Linda University Medical Center in 1970 as a chaplain and headed the department from 1978 to 2002. From 2002 until his death, he was chaplain educator at the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Memorial Hospital.
A leader in the education of pastors and chaplains for ministry in clinical settings, Dr. Davis was director of the Pacific region of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education from 1988 until he passed away. During that time he helped to educate more than 2,000 clinical pastoral education (CPE) students. He was also a member of the Faculty of Religion at Loma Linda University and a clinical supervisor in the marital and family therapy program for 29 years.
Dr. Davis was recognized for professional excellence by La Sierra University, which named him “Alumnus of the Year” in 2005. Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center presented him with a Centennial Global Service Award in 2006. The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education bestowed on him its Award for Excellence in 2004.
But beyond his professional accomplishments, Jerry, as he was known to countless people in Loma Linda and across the country, is remembered for his contributions to the life of the community that he loved, and to the large circle of colleagues and friends whose lives he touched. Randy Roberts, DMin, senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, first met Dr. Davis in 1984, when he studied clinical pastoral education with him. Pastor Roberts recalls that his first impressions were that Dr. Davis was “very bighearted, wise, supportive, and encouraging.” Returning in 1987 at the invitation of Dr. Davis to be a full-time chaplain at the Medical Center, Pastor Roberts says he learned from him “about professionalism, being a team player, and having fun—we had a lot of fun together as a staff.” One of Dr. Davis’ favorite past times was boating, especially at Lake Perris.
Dr. Roberts remembers Dr. Davis advising him and the other chaplains to “not just sit in a pew—get involved.” For Dr. Davis, that often meant hauling furniture for huge garage sales to benefit the building fund for Loma Linda Academy Elementary School—one of the fundraising projects that he passionately supported. A plaque on the school’s library, which was named for him in 1989, honors him as “undaunted and optimistic, cheerful and enthusiastic.” He was, it notes, “doubtless the individual who did the most to inspire those who supervised this project.”
While Dr. Davis was active in the church and community in other ways—as a youth leader at the University Church, school board chair for Loma Linda Academy, sports coach, and children’s church leader—he is perhaps best known for his tireless fundraising efforts for the causes, such as the school and church, in which he believed. His son, Mark, remarks that his dad once said, “I am so proud that when you see me, you immediately think ‘What worthy project is Jerry going to ask us to support?’ He wanted to be a conduit of information so people would understand the power of their generosity.”
That spirit of generosity was apparent in Dr. Davis’ own life early on. In a life sketch he began in 2004 at the request of his son, he noted that “in high school, I worked at a dairy, bought a couple of cars, paid my way pretty much, bought the steeple for the new church we attended, and saved about $2,500. Since that time I always felt wealthy and money was never a main consideration.”
For the past six years, Dr. Davis has chaired the University Church opportunity committee for the building renovation project. More than $9.5 million dollars has already been raised. To help complete this project to which Dr. Davis was so deeply committed, the family requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts be made to the University Church building fund.
Dr. Hamlin, giving the life sketch at Dr. Davis’ memorial service, remarked that his “goal, as a young minister, was to preach to thousands, but for the next three and a half decades he ministered to a congregation of one, thousands of times.” Jim Greek, DMin, now director of the chaplains’ department at the Medical Center, says that Dr. Davis’ legacy is in the people he nurtured. “He went out of his way to help people develop,” he says. “He cultivated them to become more than they thought they could become.”
Mandy Bennett, who is working toward ordination in the Episcopal Church, was one of Dr. Davis’ last CPE students. She found that “he helped me to grow into the best ‘pastoral presence’ I could be. He helped me to put some of my past experiences into perspective, and at the same time, helped me see how to use those same experiences to help others. He encouraged me to grow.” Ms. Bennett no doubt expressed the sentiments of so many others in Loma Linda and beyond when she said, “Jerry was one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. I’m really glad our paths crossed in this life.”
Dr. Davis is survived by his wife of 47 years, Sylvia, who was director of admissions and recruitment for the School of Dentistry until her retirement in 2004, their son, Mark, and three grandchildren.
By Marilyn Thomsen