Davis Ford '59 September 22, 2023 4:06 PM updated: October 3, 2023 3:26 PM
Davis Lee Ford
May 18, 1937 - September 15, 2023
After a long and good life, Davis Lee Ford passed away peacefully at his home in Austin on September 15, 2023. Davis loved God first, family, history, and the “cowboy way.” He also helped establish the global field of environmental engineering.
Davis was born in Amarillo, Texas on May 18, 1937, to Lucile Davis and Jesse Frank Ford. Always a happy child with a great sense of humor, Davis was especially adored by his maternal grandparents G.C. and Harriet King Davis. He grew up in Lubbock and graduated from Lubbock High School in 1955 with a group of friends he remained close to his whole life. He was inducted into the Roscoe Wilson Elementary School Hall of Fame with another Lubbock classmate, Buddy Holly.
After graduating with a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1959. Davis worked as an engineer in the private sector and in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 1963 he returned to graduate school at the University of Texas and completed his PhD in Environmental Health Engineering in 1966 as the first protégé of the pioneering Wesley Eckenfelder. Later Davis was named a Distinguished Alumnus of both Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. In 1985 he served as president of the Texas A&M Association of Former Students, now numbering over 640,000 members. Davis understood that he was the beneficiary of an excellent public education in Texas, and he did his best to give back.
Famously frugal, Davis nevertheless arranged for a horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park in order to propose marriage to the love of his life, Gwendolyn Sue Andrews of Bryan. She said yes, and they married on September 3, 1960. Their faithful and loving marriage lasted sixty-three years until Gwen’s death on August 2, 2023, just weeks before Davis’s.
Davis was thrilled with the births of his daughters Kelly Sue, Kristy King, and Katy Lynn. He encouraged in them the same values he had for himself: honesty, energy, a love of the outdoors, travel, and education. All three daughters graduated from Texas A&M University. After their marriages, Davis assumed a significant role in the lives of his grandchildren. Known as “Big” or “Bigaroo,” he was much adored by all ten of them: Davis, Rylan, and Lochlan Sharp [Kelly and Kevin Sharp]; Ford, Kate, Cole, and Chap Knippa [Kristy and Brad Knippa]; and Jordan, Dylan, and Trace Turbeville [Katy and Jon Metzler].
Davis’s love of history probably began as a child when he heard stories from his great-grandmother, Helen Hambrick Cline, about how as a little girl in Virginia during the Civil War she had to hide under quilts when the Yankees came. He had a passion for the history of World War II and especially for Winston Churchill and the landings on D-Day. Wherever he traveled as an engineer or a tourist, he traveled also as an historian.
The imprint of the cowboy on Davis came naturally. The High Plains of Texas were etched into his consciousness by the generations before him. His love of horses was early and permanent, and the rugged individualism of the cowboys of the Old West both matched and formed his sense of himself. For Davis, the lyrics of “Cool Clear Water” and “Empty Saddles in the Old Corral” were not just metaphors but lived experience. It was therefore no surprise that he became an early fan and great friend of “Riders in the Sky.” His love of history and cowboys came together in his writing of The Last Cowboy (Eakin Press, 2002), which he dedicated “To all those cowhands, mostly anonymous, who, through long days and nights with little pay, carved out a piece of Americana that will always be a centerpiece of our heritage.”
Davis’s impact on environmental issues, especially waste-water treatment, was worldwide. He loved to teach, especially graduate students, and served for many years as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas. He taught short courses all over the world in such countries as Poland, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, England, Turkey, and Taiwan. He was engaged in remediation issues in over seventy-five sites globally. Because he was an early founder of the field, he was frequently called upon to serve as an expert witness in lawsuits about military and industrial waste sites. He published ten books and dozens of articles in professional journals. The highest recognition of Davis’s professional accomplishment came with his election in 1997 to the National Academy of Engineering.
Davis’s brothers Jesse Frank Ford, Jr. and John Edward Ford predeceased him. His sister Susan Ford Wiltshire of Nashville survives. Davis loved helping young adults finance their education. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Capital City A&M Club, Hope for Tomorrow Program at The Settlement Home, or to the Boys Scouts of America. A celebration of life will be held October 14, 2023 at 3:30pm. Riverbend Church. 4214 Capital of Texas Highway, Austin, Texas 78746.
Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at www.wcfishnorth.com for the Ford family.