Economist Tom Davis dies at 93

Tom E. Davis, professor emeritus of economics in the College of Arts and Sciences who was an expert on economic development in Latin America, died Oct. 27 in Ithaca. He was 93.

Davis is remembered by colleagues and former students for his deep knowledge of the politics and economics in Latin America and for making an impact through teaching and government agencies.

“Tom Davis was one of the gems on Cornell’s faculty,” said Steven Chernys ’83. “He had a talent for getting to the crux of an issue quickly. His considered and informed perspectives on issues of the day broadened my own.”

Davis’ knowledge of Latin American cultures and history informed his robust view of the region’s politics and economics.

“In a world obsessed with econometric models and data analysis, we would be well served to have a Tom Davis to provide a more nuanced and informed worldview,” Chernys said.

Many of Davis’ students and advisees pursued careers in the field of economics, including Ricardo Hausmann, M.A. ’80, Ph.D. ’81, the Rafik Hariri Professor of the Practice of International Political Economy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Davis joined the Cornell faculty as an associate professor of economics in 1963. He became a full professor and served as department chair from 1967-70. He was director of Cornell’s Latin American Program for many years, beginning in 1965.

As a consultant, Davis worked with the Foreign Area Fellowship Program and the Office of Education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He worked under fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Fulbright program and the Agency for International Development. He also served as chairman of the editorial committee of the Latin American Research Review.

Public service by Davis included testifying before Congress on economic developments in South America and advising the ministry of public health in Peru, as a member of a Johns Hopkins Health Study Mission in Peru. His international work led him to make many far-reaching connections, Chernys said, including with the late Rafael Caldera, president of Venezuela.

Davis was born in 1929 in Akron, Ohio, and graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950 and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Davis married Tufts classmate Patricia Elwin in 1953.

From 1953 to 1955, he studied at the London School of Economics. He earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1956. Before coming to Cornell, he taught at the University of Chicago as an assistant professor of economics.

Davis retired from Cornell in June 2004 and was appointed emeritus in July 2004.

He is survived by two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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