Dr. Thomas L. “Tommy” Davis, Jr. – recognized as the president who brought East Mississippi Community College from the brink of closure to the fastest-growing, two-year school in the state – passed away Tuesday in Meridian. He was 88.

July 6, 2022

Dr. Thomas L. “Tommy” Davis, Jr. – recognized as the president who brought East Mississippi Community College from the brink of closure to the fastest-growing, two-year school in the state – passed away Tuesday in Meridian. He was 88.

Davis, whose relationship with EMCC spanned eight decades, came to Scooba on a football scholarship in the 1950s and continued lending his support to the school well into the 21st century.

“One of the first things that comes to mind with Dr. Davis is tenure and the respect he was given by so many people around Mississippi,” EMCC President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks said. “He had such a great reputation around the state and was so well-liked. He was popular with everyone you come across.

“He led the college through unprecedented growth and through some very difficult times and he set a very high standard for us and community colleges across the state,” Alsobrooks said. “His legacy at EMCC will never be forgotten.”

Davis took over with EMCC facing closure, but grew the school from approximately 1,000 students when he became president in 1990 to more than 4,000 when he retired in 2004.

“He came to our college at a time when closure seemed inevitable and he often said that ‘God was not ready for the college to close,’” Dr. Rick Young said. “With a strong love for his alma mater and a tireless work ethic, not only did he save EMCC from closure but grew it to become one of the best community colleges in the nation. Dr. Davis was arguably the best president to ever serve East Mississippi Community College.”

Young worked for EMCC for 40 years and took over as president when Davis retired in 2004. He praised Davis’ intelligence, down-to-earth approach, style of leadership and love for the school.

“He was the right man at the right time,” Young said. “He established credibility and financial stability and gave us the foundation we needed.

“I was blessed to have had the privilege to work and learn under his leadership. I will always associate Dr. Davis and (wife) Rita as the heart and soul of EMCC.”

A state senate resolution adopted in 2003 applauded Davis for saving the school.

“Dr. Davis had the threat of closure removed, changed the financial condition of the college, improved the public image of the college and the morale of its faculty and staff, resumed discontinued programs and activities such as sports and the arts,” the resolution read. “He also succeeded in fostering a sense of common purpose among the Scooba and Golden Triangle campuses and the extension centers that has resulted in a stronger, more unified college.”

A number of EMCC employees were both students and staff members under Davis, including Dean of Scooba Campus/College Advancement Tony Montgomery.

“I spent many times sitting in Dr. Davis’ office just chatting about life,” Montgomery said. “He always had time for anyone who needed him. It was truly a privilege to have been both a student and employee under his leadership. Dr. Davis will be missed terribly, but never forgotten.”

Davis’ 14-year tenure as EMCC president was highlighted not only by tremendous enrollment growth, but the addition of much-needed facilities on both campuses and the creation of new programs and activities.

The Davis Administration Building on the Scooba campus is named in his honor, and Davis was the college’s Distinguished Service Award recipient and Alumnus of the Year in 2004. He is a 2002 member of the EMCC Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Mississippi Community and Junior College Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

Among numerous other career honors and accolades, Davis served as president of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges and was a board member for the Southern Association of Community and Technical Colleges, Community Colleges of Appalachia and the prestigious Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

In 2002, Davis was honored by the Mississippi National Guard at Camp Shelby for his support of the military and armed forces.

The eldest of eight children, Davis was born in Prentiss County Jan. 5, 1934. He played tight end and defensive end at EMJC under legendary football coach Bob “Bull” Sullivan and received his undergraduate degree from Mississippi College.

Davis later earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a doctorate in educational administration from Mississippi State University.

Also a member of the Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame, Davis coached in-state at Pachuta, Meridian, Heidelberg and Columbia; out of state in suburban St. Louis; and collegiately at Louisiana College and Holmes Community College.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Davis was a loyal supporter of EMCC after retirement and was active in his church as a deacon and Sunday school teacher.

He is survived by his wife, the former Rita Chatham, sons Thomas L. Davis, III (Sarah) and Jonathan E. Davis, three sisters, two brothers and numerous other family members and friends.

Funeral services will be held Thursday at 1 p.m., at Robert Barham Family Funeral Home in Meridian. Visitation will begin at noon Thursday, with private family interment following the funeral at Green Valley Cemetery in Jasper County.

In lieu of flowers, the family of Dr. Davis asks that memorial contributions in his memory be made to the Chapel in the Pines c/o EMCC Development Foundation (P.O. Box 158, Scooba, Miss., 39358) and/or to the Tommy Davis Sunday School Class c/o First Baptist Church Meridian (701 26th Ave., Meridian, Miss., 39301).