Dr. William H. Davis, the last of three generations of optometrists who once ran the biggest practice in Northern California, died Tuesday of complications related to kidney disease, his family said. He was 81.
When he retired in 1998, Dr. Davis ended nearly a century of a pioneering optometry tradition in Sacramento. The practice was started by his grandfather, Herman, who received state optometry license No. 12 in 1903 and peddled eyeglasses by horse and carriage in the foothills before opening an office above a drugstore at Sixth and J streets in 1909.
The founder's sons, Norman and Geoffrey, eventually joined the practice, which later moved to 1014 K Street. The business drew patients as far away as Redding and Red Bluff, and the family opened a branch in San Francisco.
Dr. William Davis followed his father, Geoffrey, and other optometrists into the business in 1961. He gave eye exams, diagnosed vision problems and prescribed glasses and contact lenses for 37 years. He decorated his office at 22nd Street and Capitol Avenue with a collection of antique eye frames, which his family is donating to the UC Berkeley School of Optometry.
He treated generations of Sacramento families assisted only by his wife, Renee, and another part-time employee. He ran a small, old-fashioned practice in an era of large health care providers and managed care before closing his practice in 1998.
"My patients are my friends," he told The Bee. "I'm going to miss them."
Born to Catherine and Geoffrey Davis in Sacramento in 1929, William Herman Davis did not pursue optometry immediately after graduating from Christian Brothers High School in 1947.
Instead, he left Sacramento City College, joined the Army in 1951 and served 14 months in Korea. He returned home to a series of jobs ranging from janitor to selling optometric equipment before returning to college. He graduated from UC Berkeley School of Optometry in 1961.
Dr. Davis was an active member of St. Philomene Parish in Sacramento for many years. He was a co-director of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program and most recently volunteered with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Dr. Davis had three children with his wife of 60 years, the former Renee Cowan. He was an avid golfer as a young man, but he gave up the game after starting a family.
"He took up camping and fishing with the kids," his wife said. "Family always came first."