Published: Jul 08, 2012 12:05 AM
Modified: Jul 08, 2012 12:05 AM
Morris S Davis, 92, Morehead Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, died on June 19, 2012 at UNC Hospitals. Dr. Davis was a popular professor teaching general astronomy to undergraduates and celestial mechanics to graduate students at UNC from 1952 to 1956 and 1970 to 1985.
Dr. Davis received his PhD in astronomy (celestial mechanics) from Yale University in 1950. His use of state of the art computational devices in his dissertation and early research led to a career directing academic computer centers. He was Director of the Yale University Computation Center from 1956-1966, and Director of Triangle Universities Computation Center (TUCC), in the Research Triangle Park from 1966-1970. While he served as Director of TUCC he was also a Research Associate in Astronomy at UNC, NC State and Duke Universities. In July, 1972 he led an expedition to Canada to view a total solar eclipse. Dr. Davis also served on the faculties of the University of Kentucky and Yale University and on the Board of Trustees of the National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and the Board of the Hubble Space Telescope. From 1985 to 1989 he was Editor in Chief of the journal, Celestial Mechanics. He enjoyed lecturing to community groups about the stars, planets and celestial subjects and also wrote a regular astronomy column in the Chapel Hill Weekly (now Chapel Hill News) for several years. While on the UNC faculty in the 1950s, Dr. Davis also enjoyed speaking at the Morehead Planetarium.
Following the 1960 census, the U.S. District Court of Connecticut appointed Dr. Davis Special Master of the Court to develop a rational computer-based Congressional redistricting plan. Morris and his colleagues accomplished this promptly, but the Legislature stopped stalling and the plan was not used.
Morris grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Nathan, and mother, Helen, were immigrants from Poland and Romania who ran a necktie manufacturing business. As an adolescent, Morris was a member of the Hayden Planetarium’s Young Astronomers’ Club where he made lifelong friends.
Morris was a conscientious objector during World War II, for which he served a year at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution. He met Dorothy Hall while they were both employed at a Quaker Settlement house in Philadelphia. They married in 1945. Dorothy Hall Davis, a well-known potter in the Triangle area, predeceased Morris by two years.
With his wife, Morris was a founding member of the Community Church of Chapel Hill more than sixty years ago. He was a lifelong pacifist and ethical vegetarian and a great lover of classical music, faithfully attending concerts of the Duke Chamber Series, the Bethlehem Bach Choir in Pennsylvania, the Chapel Hill Philharmonia and in later years, weekly concerts at Carol Woods.
Morris was an avid photographer and videographer and loved to travel with his wife. Together they made memorable trips to Mata Ortiz in Mexico, and numerous pottery tours to England, Germany, Japan and elsewhere. Morris was a passionate backyard gardener, raising a variety of vegetables for his own table and for his friends.
Morris Davis is survived by his six children, ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and his sister, Renee Davis. His children, Glenn, Elizabeth, Cynthia, Deborah, Katherine and Martha celebrate his life, his spirit and his loving parenting.
A celebration of Morris’ life will be held at 3:00 p.m., Saturday, September 22 at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Chapel Hill.
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