Karen Chakoian, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Granville, was stunned when she received a call from Sue Davis’ children, Nick and Val, telling her something was terribly wrong with their mother. Davis had been in Paris for work and began to notice issues with her speech and memory. A flight home and an MRI brought devasting news: brain cancer.
The tumor left Davis with little speaking ability, making it difficult for those she loved to understand her. “But Sue’s determination and courage proved stronger than any of us could imagine,” says Chakoian. “Her brain kicked into gear, rewiring, astounding the doctors. After brain surgery, she began speaking again, in a limited way, using associations to help her words make sense. What were the words? ‘Animal,’ ‘Local,’ ‘Meaningful,’ ‘Hope.’ Hope was one.”
Davis earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and her doctorate degree from Emory University. She had been a member of the Denison University faculty since 2002, and she was designated as a William G. Bowen Distinguished Professor, associate professor of political science and former chair of the department. She was also director of the Office of Off-Campus Study. She was incredibly proud to have been the first woman to be tenured in the political science department and was a stalwart supporter of female leadership on campus, serving as a mentor and confidante to many female faculty, and inspiring many of them in the classroom and in their leadership. Sue was a fierce intellectual, a straight talker, a lifelong learner, and a great friend. As a political science professor, she wanted her students to look beyond their points of view and understand the global forces that connect and affect people. As director of off-campus study, she wanted every student to have the opportunity to study off-campus, to see the world in person, and engage with and learn from different people and cultures. She was an expert on the Ukraine, Russia, and ethnic conflict and had traveled substantially. She published two books, Trade Unions in Russia and Ukraine: 1985-1995 and The Last Frontier: The Russian Far East, and numerous articles on topics related to the post-Soviet countries. She was also an adjunct faculty member at the Air Force Special Operations University at Hurlbert Field, Fla.
Prior to Davis’ death on Feb. 23, 2018, a group of Denison faculty and staff helped care for her, allowing her to continue life in her home. She was preceded in death by her parents and her brother, Rick. She is survived by her son and daughter, Nick and Val Reed; brother and sister-in-law, Mike and Tama Davis; and their children, Tyler, Kenzie, and Logan.
—Written in collaboration with family and friends