Knick knacks and keepsakes are arranged neatly across a sizable wooden desk, each with their own story to tell. Adjacent to the desk, a large accent wall full of frames and photos depict notable moments and accomplishments. To Gordon Davis, these mementos are a tangible collection of relationships and adventures spanning decades.
Looking at the vibrant tapestry that is Davis’ life, a few common threads can be seen weaving the entire work together; agriculture, generosity and education. Nothing encapsulates these three tenets better than his support of agricultural students at Texas Tech University.
During an announcement ceremony hosted in the historic Dairy Barn on Texas Tech’s campus in late January 2022, Gordon Davis, Ph.D., and his wife Joyce announced a $44 million gift to the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Previously known as CASNR, the college has been renamed the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in his honor.
“We’ve been at Texas Tech 42 years,” Davis said. “I love the kids, I love the faculty, I love the university, and I love the agricultural community. So, after a while, I thought and decided to go to the college of agriculture sciences and natural resources here.”
Davis’ gift is the single largest philanthropic donation to Texas Tech in school history and is one of the largest investments in an agricultural college in the entire country.
“I think we’ve helped a lot of kids, and I hope a lot of faculty, and a whole a lot of agriculture people all over,” Davis said.
Cindy Akers, Ed.D., the interim dean of Davis College, said the gift will fund a number of strategic initiatives for years to come.
“[Gordon] just wants us to be better and have the opportunity to be better and to be problem solvers,” Akers said. “Problems that we don’t even know about yet that we can solve. We are going to be able to trace it back to this gift and him setting us up to do that.”
Akers said Davis College students will start to feel the impact of the donation fairly quickly through high-impact, transformative experiences.
“I foresee some ideas coming forward to increase those opportunities because I think that’s what sets us apart and what elevates our students,” Akers said.
This gift will not only be transformational for Davis College, but also for the entire university, Akers said.
“With this great gift is great responsibility, and I hope that students will get to know that and realize that at some point they could be in that position,” Akers said. “I hope that we are educating students and making them understand the importance of philanthropic people like Dr. Davis and to be grateful.”
Byron Kennedy, vice president for university advancement at Texas Tech, is responsible for engaging, cultivating and ultimately soliciting donors like Gordon Davis.
“I think that’s a really important thing about philanthropy, it’s relationship driven,” Kennedy said. “In particular, when you get to investments and visions at this scale. People want to know that it’s going to a place that understands their vision, that respects the things that are important to them.”
Philanthropic donations of this size typically take years to develop and finalize but because Davis has had a relationship with Texas Tech for over 40 years, the entire process only lasted a little over 18 months, Kennedy said.
“This is something that he’s loved for a long time,” Kennedy said. “It’s exciting to have these announcements in these moments, but most always, you’re looking back at years and decade’s worth of relationship.”
Texas Tech has done more with less, but Kennedy challenges that they should be doing more with more. People like Davis who are invested in something that already has a culture of excellence will amplify success and transform the university.
“Our college of agriculture has very special students,” Kennedy said. “There’s something about the work ethic, the moxie, the friendliness, the ambition of our students, that translates into the workforce, and we ultimately think changes the world. Gordon wanted to put an investment on that.”
Davis said his deep seeded passion for philanthropy comes from his personal faith and the concept of ‘living your dash.’
“You go to a cemetery; you’ll see some stone and some grass, you see some names, and you see some dates. Born and died and then there is a dash, ‘what did you do with your dash?’,” Davis said. “God doesn’t really care what we have, he cares what you gave.”
Although he has a Ph.D., Davis attests that he simply prefers to go by “Gordo.” Even so, having your last name on a piece of paper they call a degree has been an incredibly humbling experience, Davis said.
“I want all the kids to feel really proud,” Davis said after a long pause with tears in his eyes. “They’re going to be getting a degree from a special college. There’re not very many named colleges out there, and we’re not going to take the naming lightly.”
Davis said he has no interest in mediocrity whatsoever. He lives by a pursuit of excellence and the realization that no matter how good you are, you can always get better.
“People love to invest in winners, so I want us to put out the image that we’re a winner,” Davis said. “I’d like to see us get to the world class level in about 2030, and I think with pursuit of excellence, all this working together, I think we can do it.”
At the heart of it, Davis’ passion for teaching has morphed through his entire career and touched countless lives. Davis said he wants to become a secret mentor for every student who graduates from the college and cheer them on from behind the scenes.
“I want the kids from Texas Tech to hold their heads high and say, look, ‘I’m pretty damn proud of my degree’,” Davis said.
Davis said he hopes graduates from the college will take the world by storm and become leaders in the agricultural world.
“I want the kids that graduate from this college to not be afraid,” Davis said. “It’s okay to kick some ass. It’s okay to compete, and it’s okay to win. Play fair, but play hard, and you might just get lucky.”
Looking ahead, Davis said he is officially semi-retired and is using his extra time to focus on being happy and doing the things he enjoys most.
“I just want to be happy, and the happiest I am is helping other people,” Davis said. “I really feel fulfilled when I’m helping other people out.”