The Favored Mind of Horace Davenport
From cable splicer for the telephone company during the Great Depression,
to Rhodes Scholar, world-renowned physiologist and highly respected medical
historian, Professor Emeritus Horace W. Davenport, Ph.D., stands as one of
the icons of the University of Michigan Medical School. Chair of Physiology
for 22 years, Davenport brought his inimitable style and sharp intellectual
influence to bear on the lives and training of hundreds of students throughout
his career before retiring in 1978.
Davenport recently recalled his era of medicine at Michigan; excerpts are
slightly edited for presentation here.
“I got [to U-M] on the 22nd of June, 1956, a Sunday, and on Monday the
buildings and grounds department knocked out the windows and threw the Physiology
Department out and rebuilt it. It was dreadful. The varnish was drying on the
doors of the new laboratories when I held my first class. But because I was
a chum of the head of buildings and grounds, he came in and looked at the floor
and said, ‘Oh, this is terrible! Have it tiled and charge it to my account.’ The
great advantage [of having been department chair at the University of Utah
College of Medicine] was that when I came to Michigan, I knew exactly what
to do. One of the things you do is butter up the department of grounds...
“I worked very hard to build up the Physiology Department, to do the
teaching, and I did research. I became fed up with my research. I wasn’t
getting anyplace; I was going to quit.
“But then Charlie Code [a leading gastroenterologist at the time], who
I worked with at the Mayo Clinic while a visiting professor there, posed a
problem to me and I knew the answer ... When I got back to Michigan, I knew
I had a problem that was important, and I worked on it.
“Code said that when he irrigated the pouch in the stomach with a substance
called eugenol — the active ingredient in cloves — that he stimulated
the pouch to secrete, and it secreted very poorly. He thought that eugenol
inhibited acid secretion. However, I demonstrated that it broke the gastric
mucosal barrier and that, in turn, acids diffused back into the gastric mucosa.
The whole physiology of that took me 16 years to work out, and it was a good
That good job revolutionized the world of gastroenterology and earned Davenport
an international reputation.
But for those he trained and mentored, it was the impression as a teacher
that Davenport made on them that colors their own memories. Teresa Bruggeman
(Ph.D. 1974), an assistant professor in the U-M School of Nursing and adjunct
lecturer in the Division of Kinesiology, remembers that “Horace Davenport
took great pride in his department’s graduate students; they were welcomed
scholars and loyal members. He even added a great room to his home to accommodate
his Friday night History of Physiology seminars, complete with fine hors d’oeuvre
and good wine.
“Every graduate student knew Davenport’s favorite science quote: ‘Chance
favors the prepared mind.’ We used it on guide signs to our picnics and
canoe trips to northern Michigan.
It was an acknowledgment that we belonged to something special.”
Horace Davenport lives with his wife, Inge, in Birmingham, Alabama.