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Serving America's patients and physicians: Ronald M. Davis, MD

November 11, 2008

Funeral services for Dr. Davis
East Lansing, MI

Joseph M. Heyman, MD
Board of Trustees

Good morning, I'm Joe Heyman, Chairman of the Board of the American Medical Association. Here with me today, sharing our love and admiration for Ron Davis, are: Nancy Nielsen, President of the AMA; Michael Maves, Chief Executive Officer; Edward Hill, Past President and World Medical Association Chair; and Ed Langston, Immediate Past Chair of the AMA.

Also, I see leadership and members of the Michigan State Medical Society and physicians from the Public Health community.

It's a humbling experience to be asked to talk about the life of a man like Ron Davis on a day like today.

In many ways, and for so many reasons, I don't believe it can be done in the past tense.

He will always be the loving husband of Nadine.
He will always be the proud father of Jared, Evan and Connor.
He will always be in our hearts.

It's humbling as well to try to share just how much Ron shaped our organization.

As many of you know, when he was still a resident, he was elected to the AMA Board of Trustees — the first resident to ever accomplish that feat.

You might think that when a resident comes on our board, he sits quietly, listens intently, and generally allows his elders to have their way.

Well, that wasn't Ron's way.

Little did the AMA Board know then, but Ron Davis had some very strong convictions about improving the lives of our patients — about how the Board could play a much larger role in public health advocacy.

More specifically — how the association could strengthen its policies concerning tobacco control and prevention.

In fact, I can say without hesitation that Ron was the driving force in shaping the AMA to become such a strong national advocate against tobacco.

He was the driving force in challenging the AMA. He pushed the AMA to fight for legislation for the FDA to regulate tobacco.

That might sound like a dry detail to some, a bland description of what an association does, but because of Ron's work, he affected countless state initiatives and motivated numerous public health efforts across the nation.

Because of Ron's work, tens of thousands of young people never started smoking.

Because of Ron, tens of thousands of lives were saved.

And through it all — through raising his incredible family and being a partner with Nadine through his journey along the circle of life — he always remained with the AMA.

He always retained his good nature.

And he always took to the microphone. Early and often, I might add, to remind us all to protect the art and science of medicine and the health of our nation; to make the nation's physicians know that the AMA could make a difference; to help people lead healthier, more productive lives.

And you know what? He did all this with a subtle, quiet, mischievous sense of humor.

Ron knew that people loved their cheeseburgers and their fries.

Which is why his meticulously prepared power point presentations — filled with the evils of the triple bacon, triple fatburger — were laced with witticisms and wry observations.

Ron knew how fragile life was. He knew he could make a difference.

Ron's method — on the board and as a preventive medicine doctor — was to urge us to see what we were really doing. What the implications of our actions really were.

Ron, my friend, you succeeded beyond your wildest imagination.

You wrote an eloquent explanation about what it means for an organization to apologize.

That article persuaded our board to vote overwhelmingly to right a historical wrong in our past treatment of African American physicians.

And then that same eloquence appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association for the entire world to see.

You turned a shameful past misdeed into a bright future.

Your bedrock principles made it possible for the AMA to be a forceful leader in calling attention to health care disparities.

We are a stronger association because of it.

There's no other way to say it. Your life as a physician, and as an impeccable leader of the AMA throughout your entire career — as a medical student, as a young resident, and as one of the nation's foremost preventive medicine leaders has made the association you loved so much — a stronger association because of it.

Last Saturday some 1,500 people demonstrated their out-pouring of love for you at our House of Delegates.

Ron, your life commands our respect.

Your life demonstrates the best of our profession.

We are humbled to try and follow your lead.

Your time with us was much too short.

And though it seems like small comfort now, your vast accomplishments will remind us for years to come.

We are a stronger association, a more honorable profession, and a better nation because of what you have provided for us all.

May God bless you in your journey.