An individual who has been intrinsically linked with Brock athletics was granted an honorary doctorate during the University’s 111th Spring Convocation on Wednesday, June 15.
Bob Davis received a standing ovation from a large crowd during the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences afternoon ceremony.
While delivering the Convocation address, Davis applauded students for completing their degrees under tough conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and said their determination to endure will serve them well in their future careers.
“You should be extremely proud of overcoming the challenges you faced. When you enrolled four or five years ago, you didn’t expect to finish under these circumstances,” he said. “You should be very proud of your achievement, considering the challenges that you personally faced and were able to overcome. Your fortitude will serve you well in your future endeavours.”
Davis, who was introduced on the Convocation stage by former Brock Athletic Director Lorne Adams, built one of the strongest varsity programs in the country, growing athletics from a handful of teams to 32 and spearheading the transformation of Brock’s moniker from the Generals to the Badgers in the early 1970s.
Despite his lasting legacy at Brock, Davis never anticipated receiving such an honour from the University.
“I was shocked. It was a total surprise, but I’m honoured and very appreciative of the distinction,” he said. “To receive something this valuable from a place that means so much to me is something I hold dear.”
Davis encouraged students to never stop learning and to take a chance on opportunities when it comes to education.
“I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities and to take a chance on those circumstances and make the best of them,” he said. “When I moved my family from Saskatchewan to start a new job at a new university in St. Catharines, it felt like going into the unknown, but in the end, it was the best risk I’ve ever taken.”
At the age of 86, Davis is known throughout the Brock Sports community as their No. 1 fan. Despite being retired from Brock for more than 20 years, he and his wife, Susie, rarely miss a Badgers home game.
The couple, who will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary in August, can regularly be found in their bleachers on Game Day, when they aren’t catching up with Brock alumni or encouraging student-athletes in their pursuits of success on and off the court.
“We’re a spectator team. She comes to 90 per cent of the games with me and enjoys keeping up with all of our sports,” Davis said.
He was hired by the late Arnie Lowenberger, a legendary Brock dean who helped design the master plan for the Physical Education and Recreation Program and Athletics Facility during the early years of the University.
There were roughly 1,100 students at Brock when Davis was hired in July 1968.
Upon reflecting on those early days of drafting a proposal for an athletics program, Lowenberger surmised that hiring Davis was the most important decision he made regarding the development of athletics at Brock.
“I dreamed the dream, but it was Bob Davis who made that dream a reality,” wrote Lowenberger in 40 Years Brock University Athletics, which Davis treats as his Bible.
Davis grew up in Moose Jaw, Sask. He obtained his Master of Science from the University of Oregon in the early 1960s.
He taught at the elementary, high school and college levels before Lowenberger, a fellow Saskatchewan native, offered him a job as an assistant professor in the Physical Education Department.
The Davis family — Bob, Susie and daughters Jody and Barbara — had never been east of Winnipeg before travelling to St. Catharines and settling into an apartment on Glenridge Avenue.
“As I drove down Ontario Street, with the railroad tracks in the middle of the road, I wondered to myself ‘what am I getting into here?’” Davis recalled.
Over three decades at Brock, Davis went on to build one of the strongest varsity programs in the country.
The Badgers won 31 provincial and 10 national championships during his time at the University.
He served many different roles including Director of Athletics, Professor of Physical Education, Chairman of the Department of Athletic Services in the School of Physical Education and Recreation, and Acting Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences before retiring in 2001.
Davis was the last president of the Ontario Universities Athletic Association (OUAA) and the first president of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) following the amalgamation of the OUAA and the Ontario Women’s Interuniversity Athletic Association (OWIAA).
In 2002, the University officially renamed the former Gym One to Bob Davis Gymnasium. The Surgite Award, which is awarded to the top student-athlete who excels in both academics and athletics, is also named after him and is known as the RM Davis Surgite Award.
He was inducted into the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, the Brock Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005 as a builder and was anointed to the Niagara Golf Wall of Recognition in 2021.