A sisters' legacy
Just a few years after California Gov. George Pardee signed into law an act to establish a university farm school in Davis in 1905, Oma Bennett Davis and Elizabeth Catherine Davis were living on their family’s 70-acre farm in Fair Oaks. Nearly 60 years later, in 1966, the UC Davis School of Medicine was established. Although the sisters had no relationship to the campus’s namesake, they said they were proud to share their names with such a distinguished organization, and donated over $5.5 million to its future success.
Scholarship funds given to the School of Medicine by the late Oma and Elizabeth Davis, in memory of their family, will provide financial assistance to UC Davis medical students in perpetuity. Scholarships not only attract and reward a greater number of exceptional students, but also provide tuition relief, which is especially important since a quarter of UC Davis’ medical students come from backgrounds in which financial resources are extremely limited.
The sisters’ father, Walter Mangum Davis, a surgeon who practiced medicine from 1890 to 1910, and their mother, Oma Bennett Davis, provided the motivation to establish scholarships in support of medical students.
The three Davis children — Walter Jefferson, Oma Bennett (named in honor of her mother) and Elizabeth Catherine — grew up in the home on Fair Oaks Boulevard, and none of them had children.
Following their father’s death in 1925, their mother moved to San Francisco to be near her daughters, who managed a hotel-apartment building that their father had purchased in about 1919. The building was located at 977 Pine Street near the Mark Hopkins and Fairmont Hotels. However, their mother didn’t enjoy living in San Francisco and moved back to her Fair Oaks home. Oma and Elizabeth continued to manage the hotel-apartment building until they sold it in the 1940s and then returned to Fair Oaks to help maintain the family’s citrus and olive orchard.
During the past two decades, Elizabeth and Oma made several irrevocable “life income” gifts to UC Davis, tax-saving arrangements whereby the sisters transferred cash, appreciated securities, and appreciated real estate to UC Davis in return for lifetime income. These life income arrangements made it possible for the sisters to receive income from otherwise non-income producing assets and to also establish a lasting legacy at the UC Davis School of Medicine.
Through their estates, Elizabeth and Oma made additional gifts for the medical student scholarships, the most valuable gift being what remains of the Davis farm, 8.06 acres in Fair Oaks. The endowments established by Oma and Elizabeth will carry their names and that of their brother for as long as the UC Davis School of Medicine exists. Over a century after their father practiced medicine, the Davis family legacy will continue by making it possible for generations of UC Davis medical students to prepare for the practice of medicine in the centuries ahead.
Oma and Elizabeth observed the progress of UC Davis since its first batch of agriculture students in 1908. During a tour of the UC Davis Medical Center in 1998, Oma said, “It makes one feel proud to be associated with such an organization.”