Leon Davis, was born on the 15th of November 1918, in Arkansas City, Kansas and died on the 21st of November 2013, as he had lived, nobly and peacefully, less than a week after celebrating his 95th birthday with Elene, his devoted and beloved wife of 61 years, their children and grandchildren.
Leon was a patriot, a decorated soldier, a quiet philanthropist, a believer in civic activism, a proud oilman and son of a wildcatter, and a devoted tennis player. He believed in and will be remembered for having lived a life of absolute integrity, which was the hallmark of all of his public and private endeavors, and was the single thing, besides his undying love for his family, that gave his life meaning.
After graduating from The University of Oklahoma, Leon enlisted in the Army
Air Corps, sensing the inevitability of WWII
. He served with the 97th bomb group where he became assistant A-4 and was based in Polebrook, England. He was the duty officer when the British conducted the first daylight raid in occupied Europe, an event which the War Museum of London documented as one of the 300 most important events of World War II conducted in Europe. He later served in multiple locations in North Africa and received the Bronze Star
for his service there. He achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel and was later nominated for a second Bronze Star after having helped plan the invasion of Southern France. He later quipped that he had been chosen to plan the invasion because at the age of 24 he had so much experience planning invasions. After the War ended, he was promoted to rank of full Colonel and was one of 12 Allied officers to receive commendations from Pope Pius XII in a private audience.
Leon and his brother Elliott started Davis Bros. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after the War ended. They discovered the well-known Chunchula Field in Mobile County, Alabama and the Waveland Field in Hancock County, Mississippi. Two of Elliott's four sons and Leon's two sons joined Davis Bros., which also became active in venture capital and real estate development. They also formed Alliance Business Investment Company, the first SBIC in Oklahoma.
Tulsa was the scene of the worst race riots in United States history in 1908. On principle, Leon became a pioneer in the civil rights movement, motivated by his sense of fairness and believing fervently in equal rights and equal opportunity. He was President of the Urban League of Tulsa and later became Co-Chairman with Winthrop Rockefeller of the South-Wide Advisory Council for the National Urban League. In 1966, he was appointed by then Governor Henry Bellmon as Chairman of the Civil Rights Commission of the State of Oklahoma. By that time, he had received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan who threatened to bomb his house. They were evidently deterred when seeing a "Goldwater for President" sticker on the family car and concluded they must have had the wrong address. In Tulsa, Leon became President of the Kiwanis Club, head of the annual drive for the United Jewish Appeal, President of B'nai Brith, Chairman of the Boys Club of the Salvation Army and tennis partner to his four children.
In 1968, Davis Bros. opened a second office in Houston in part to satisfy Leon's homesick, Texas born wife. Leon was an oilman at heart and he was especially proud of the achievements of Davis Bros. after his sons joined him and became third generation oilmen. Their efforts together led to the discovery of the northern extension of the Alabama Ferry Field in Leon County, Texas, the largest Cretaceous-aged discovery of its kind since the Giant Fairway Field, which was discovered in 1960. In 1995, Davis Bros. consummated an exploration agreement with the Osage Indian Tribe of Oklahoma which was the first major exploration agreement signed by the Indian nation since 1916. In 2001, Davis Bros. discovered the largest field in the non-pressured Yegua formation in southeast Texas in the last 30 years. Leon's sons named the field The Lucky Leon Field, which was a constant source of delight and pleasure to him. Printed on a plaque affixed to his office door were the words, "Lucky Leon".
In 1979, Leon and Roy Huffington formed The Interferon Foundation, of which Leon became Chairman. Together they raised over $20 million from their friends in the oil business, and from various public and private oil companies to fund clinical trials of interferon. These funds were the largest amount ever raised for clinical trials for a single drug in medical history. All administrative costs for the decade long fund raising effort were underwritten by Leon and Roy and the Foundation's Board, thus ensuring that the stated purpose of the effort was honored. A rare and costly body protein, because it had to be synthesized from white blood cells, interferon was a revolutionary treatment for certain forms of cancer. It remains an effective treatment for hairy cell leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia and is also effective in the treatment of viral hepatitis, and laryngeal papilloma. Its use has since saved the lives of thousands worldwide. Dr. Jordan U. Gutterman of M. D. Anderson who led the clinical trials was quoted in an interview at the time: "Interferon was the first biologic. This is a Texas story. Only with Texas-style philanthropy could this have been carried out." In 1990, when the Foundation was disbanded, its mission accomplished, The Houston Chronicle wrote in its editorial pages, " The Interferon Foundation was in the best Houston tradition of private-sector civic-mindedness and philanthropy and the oil industry's involvement in the community workings of its capital city…One of the pleasures of a newspaper's editorial page is to be able to drop the objective, facts-only approach of its news pages and, in the name of the community, compliment those who deserve it. Our compliments to The Interferon Foundation, to Davis and Huffington and all involved. They deserve it."
Leon was a member of the Board of Trustees of M.D. Anderson and was also a senior advisory Board member, a past Board member of Congregation Beth Israel, a member of the downtown Kiwanis Club, the River Oaks Breakfast Association and The Houston Racquet Club where he played tennis with his children and grandchildren for fifty years.
Leon was predeceased by his parents, Herman and Miriam Davis; brother, Elliott Davis; and daughter, Evan Carole Davis. He is survived by his loving wife, Elene Meyer Davis who will miss, more than anything, holding his hand every night. He is also survived by his daughter, Lynn Davis Lasher and her children, Reese, Hayden McGuiness and husband, David, and William; his son, Lance Harrison Davis and wife Barbara Fain Davis and their children, Whit, Parker, Natalie and George; and Ross Meyer Davis and wife, Gail Alexander Davis, and their children, Allie, Kate and Emmie.
The family would like to thank the members of the staff of Davis Bros. in Houston and Tulsa. They would also like to recognize with gratitude the many nurses and doctors who cared for Leon at St. Luke's Hospital and at home.
Serving as honorary pallbearers are Dr. Earl Beard, David B. Chalmers, Martin Fein, James E. Fischer, Gary F. Gibson, Dr. Jordan U. Gutterman and Charles Weiner.
Friends are cordially invited to a visitation with the family from six o'clock until eight o'clock in the evening, on Monday, the 25th of November in the library of Geo. H. Lewis & Sons, 1010 Bering in Houston.
A memorial service is to be conducted at eleven o'clock in the morning on Tuesday, the 26th of November, at the Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism, 801 Bering in Houston, where Rabbi Steven M. Gross, is to officiate. A reception is to follow at a venue to be announced during the service.
Prior to the memorial service, the family will have gathered for a private interment at Woodlawn Cemetery in Houston.
In lieu of customary remembrances, and for those desiring, the family requests with gratitude that memorial contributions in Leon's name be directed to The University of Texas
M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe, Houston, TX, 77030.