“The best time to leave a job is while you still love it,” said Davis, whose departure from the University attracted a slew of special guests.
Former students, the singing group Din and Tonics and the hosts of National Public Radio’s “Car Talk” all came to honor Davis.
“It sort of feels like a pre-need memorial service,” Davis joked during the celebration.
Davis, a Magnolia, Miss. native, began higher education at Mississippi State University before going on to receive a doctorate at MIT and a post-doctoral degree at Cal Tech. His first teaching job was at the University of Pennsylvania, where he spent 15 years. Davis was then recruited for an administrative position in biochemistry at Harvard.
“I said I was very interested in the job, but only if it included the opportunity to teach, because I love teaching,” Davis told The Crimson.
Harvard agreed, and Davis came to Cambridge in 1987.
He now serves as head tutor and coordinator of laboratories for the chemistry department. Davis also serves as a resident tutor in Dunster House.
Davis was drawn into other aspects of student life, including theater and music. He performed in a student production of West Side Story, and served as an advisor to both the Din and Tonics and the Krokodiloes.
Yesterday’s event marked another step in Davis’ planned transition to retirement.
The celebration kicked off with shouts and applause from the crowded Science Center lecture hall, as Davis and his wife Doralene looked on.
Chem 5 teaching fellow Roger D. Huffstetler opened the proceedings with an imitation of Davis which drew laughs. Davis was teased for his Southern dialect and the “Good morning!” with which he greets his students.
Davis was also presented with a personalizedjersey from the football team. The Din and Tonics then performed a few songs for the class.
Singing the traditional drinking song “Johnny Harvard,” members of the a cappella group poured Davis a Beefeater gin and tonic.
One member of the group, James A. Crawford ’03, who is also a Crimson editor, remembered taking Chem 5 during his first year. He recalled performing in Anything Goes, a musical that Davis attended.
“The next day, he came to class and mentioned what a wonderful time he had at the performance,” Crawford said.
“[Then Davis said], ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that one of the people in this class was in the cast.’ He remembered my face from a sea of students, and I’ll always remember that.”
Also making an appearance were radio personalities Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of the National Public Radio show “Car Talk,” for which Davis serves as a chemistry advisor.
“Jim appeared on our show a number of times,” Ray Magliozzi told the class. “He’s had more right answers than we have.”
Davis became involved in the show through a former student.
Davis told The Crimson that he was once consulted by the Magliozzi brothers when a caller described urinating into a car radiator in order to fill it up enough to drive home.
“Naturally I told them to flush the radiator,” Davis said.
Gregory C. Tucci, assistant director of undergraduate studies for chemistry, praised Davis for his dedication and teaching.
“He has an office here in the Science Center and that office door is ALWAYS open to students,” Tucci wrote in an e-mail message.
“He has 100 percent accessibility to chemistry majors and non-majors alike. We feel a very special person is leaving Harvard.”
Davis and his wife plan to live in Philadelphia and New York. Davis said he will be working to create a Web-based chemistry curriculum for use in community colleges.
—Staff writer Benjamin D. Margo can be reached at email@example.com.