For a tribute to Joe Davis, the December 2011 issue of Academic Forensic Pathology created a graphic showing how many forensic pathologists “descended’’ from the legendary Miami-Dade County medical examiner.
It looks like a bicycle wheel with scores of spokes radiating from the axle, and from some of those, secondary and tertiary spokes, 130 in all.
As word of Davis’ death at his Tallahassee home Tuesday began to spread, “descendants’’ from around the world reached out to each other to share memories of their mentor and teacher.
“I read one from New Zealand on the National Association of Medical Examiners list serve,’’ said Dr. Bruce Hyma, who now runs the office that Davis ran from 1957-1996, then briefly in 2000. “That’s the legacy of this man, his humbleness, his kindness, his down-to-earth approach to an area of medicine that’s very complex and can be perplexing — and nothing like what you see on TV.’’
Hyma, who took the job in 2001, called Davis “one of the pioneers in forensic pathology,’’ a description that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez echoed.
Davis “was a dedicated public servant and a pioneer in a profession that very few people have the fortitude or knowledge to take on,’’ Gimenez said in a statement.
Joseph Harrison Davis, born April 16, 1924 in New York City, was 88. Susan Towson, one of his seven children — six of them daughters — said he “died peacefully in his sleep’’ at the small home he built for himself on Lake Bradford after the death of his wife, Rose Marie Lorentzen Davis, in 2001.
They’d been married since 1952.
Joe Davis was a veteran of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Public Health Service, collector of antique firearms and historic cannon replicas, a devout Lutheran, active Rotarian, classical-music lover, outdoorsman, and the proud grandfather/great-grandfather of 36.
In April 1988, the county named a new, state-of-the-art medical examiner’s office in his honor: the Dr. Joseph H. Davis Center for Forensic Pathology.
In addition to performing an estimated 10,000 autopsies, Davis was a crusader — for highway and swimming-pool safety, against smoking and pesticides.
Hyma said he insisted that students and subordinates treat the dead with respect, and deal kindly with bereaved families “on the worst day of their lives.’’
Daughter Susan recalled that “death was talked about at the dinner table. We knew what he did and why he did it: He was speaking for the dead.”
Davis served on the 12 -member House Select Committee on Assassinations, established in 1976 to investigate the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, as president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the Dade Citizens Safety Council, and co-wrote Florida’s medical examiner law.
Davis lectured and wrote on a wide range of topic, including the deadly effects of man-of-war stings, peanut butter as a choking hazard, drowning, self-immolations, carbon monoxide poisoning, auto-erotic asphyxiation, rape and cocaine psychosis.
He consulted with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — and on the sudden death of Elvis Presley. Davis autopsied his share of the famous and notorious, some whose deaths spurred wild speculation and controversy. But on a slab at the morgue, they were all equal.