Living and working most of his life in the capital of Texas, Will Davis Sr., BBA ’54, LLB ’54, has been a servant leader and an agent of change—committing his life to excellence in education and in the work of the Texas insurance profession.
An Austin native and standout high school football player for Austin High, Davis was always an athlete. He was offered two football scholarships out of high school—one to UT and the other to Baylor. He chose Baylor and played running back for the Bears, competing in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech in January 1952.
He accomplished much during his four years at Baylor, earning degrees in business and law. He was chairman of the Southwest Conference Sportsmanship Committee and editor of the Baylor Law Review.
Davis was instrumental in developing Baylor’s student government structure—serving as the University’s first student body president. He had been president of the newly created Student Government for one week when the 1953 tornado hit Waco, killing 114 people and leveling much of downtown. He and several friends were in the Baylor Drugstore, at Fifth and Speight, when it hit.
Davis organized a group of about 150 Baylor students, and they spent much of the next week helping clean up the debris. “We knew they needed a lot of help digging people out and that kind of thing,” recalls Davis, “so we headed up there and worked all night long cleaning up in the rain. Most of the people who died in the Waco tornado were on the corner of 5th Street and Austin Avenue where a furniture store building had collapsed. It was a terrible tragedy, but I thought Baylor people responded really well.”
Raised as an only child by his single mother, a schoolteacher, education has been important to Davis for as long as he can remember.
“I just fell in love with school, and athletics provided me an outlet to get more education. When I became an adult and got in a position of some influence in certain circles, education seemed to me to be a good place to expend some energy,” he laughs.
Living in a boarding house with his mother about a block from the Texas Capitol Building, Davis started working there as a child. He served as a page in the Texas Legislature at ages 9, 11 and 13. During the final year, he paged for Baylor graduate and rising political figure Price Daniel, AB ’31, JD ’32.
“During my public school and college years, Price Daniel was elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Texas Attorney General, U.S. Senator and Governor of Texas. Through the years, we became friends, and I ended up joining his political team,” says Davis, who served as chairman of the Texas Democratic Party from 1965-68 and was a delegate to several state and national political conventions.
Davis has been an active leader in public education at all levels. He was elected and served as a member and past vice chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, as a member and past president of the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, and as a member of the Texas Coordinating Board of the Texas College and University System. He has served as president of the Texas Association of School Boards and of the National School Boards Association. Davis was co-chair of the National Citizens Committee for a Cabinet-level Department of Education, which led to the establishment of the U.S. Department of Education. He helped to found Austin Community College in 1971 and was the first president of its Board of Trustees. Davis was a member of the Board of Trustees at St. Edwards University. And, he was vice president of the Texas Historical Commission
While Davis was still an undergraduate, Abner McCall, who was then dean of the Law School and later president of Baylor, took an interest in him.
“He told me he didn’t think I would make it as a professional football player, and that I should try law school since my grades were good,” Davis says. “McCall was orphaned as a child, and I think he found out I grew up essentially fatherless. I had never thought of being a lawyer and probably wouldn’t have been if Judge McCall had not asked me to come see him.”
Davis’ 50-plus years as a leading legal representative in the world of insurance included work with many major companies, including AIG, American National, USAA, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas. He served as general counsel for the Texas Department of Insurance and as an assistant attorney general of Texas before founding the Heath, Davis & McCalla law firm where he has represented major insurance companies and trade associations since 1960. He became a spokesperson before the Texas Legislature, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and other entities. He retired in 2012.
Among dozens of honors, the Insurance Council of Texas (ICT) presented the Raymond Mauk Leadership Award to Davis in 2010. It is the Council’s highest honor and is intended to bestow recognition on those whose labor has made a significant difference in the business of insurance. In 2012, the Texas Association of Life & Health Insurers established the Will D. Davis Excellence in Insurance Award with Davis as the award’s first recipient.
Davis has made Baylor part of his family legacy. He and his late wife, Ann ’52, have three children, Lisa Davis, Lynn Walker, BS ’82, and Dr. Will Davis Jr., BA ’84, and nine grandchildren, including Katelyn Baroch, BA ’07, William Walker III, BBA ’07, MTS ’10, Allison Davis, BA ’08, Davis Walker, BS ’08, Will Davis III, BA ’09, Natalie Walker, BA ’11, and Emily Davis, BA ’12, and two great grandchildren.