(VIDEO) Gordon and Joyce Davis choose Texas Tech agriculture college for a $44 million gift – the largest in Texas Tech University history.
Gordon Davis peers into the trophy case in the foyer of the Texas Tech meat science lab that bears his name. A steady stream of students in red hardhats and white lab coats — the uniform of the meat lab — walk back and forth behind him between the classrooms that flank the space.
“Guess how many awards I could find that we won for meat judging when I got here in 1980,” he asks. “From 1938, when the team started, until 1981 when I coached my first team.”
He holds up a single finger. “One.”
Dozens of silver and gold championship cups pack the trophy case. A separate section holds the program's national championship cups.
Davis makes his way out of the foyer down the adjoining hallway that leads to the meat cooler — a hallway lined on the right with team photos and the names of donors and on the left – with 20 uninterrupted feet of trophy cases, four shelves high. The glass shelves bow from the weight of the trophies they support.
“Look at them,” he reminisces, glancing over the hundreds of plaques won by four decades of meat judging teams. “There are so many they're stacked like books. And we started with one.”
Davis initiated Texas Tech's meat judging dynasty and now is the namesake of the Gordon W. Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources with a $44 million gift he and his wife, Joyce, made in December 2021. The couple also decided to make an additional $1 million gift to Texas Tech Athletics, making their $45 million total gift the largest single investment in Texas Tech history.
The Pursuit of Excellence
Texas Tech hired Davis away from the University of Tennessee in 1980 to become an assistant professor in the Department of Animal & Food Sciences and coach of the meat judging team. Other universities dominated meat judging and meat science, and Texas Tech had never even been a part of the national conversation in the field.
While working on his master's degree at Texas A&M University a few years earlier, Davis, alongside his long-time mentor, professor Gary C. Smith, became the first person to coach a meat judging team to a perfect 6-0 season and adopted a motto of “the pursuit of excellence.” He arrived in Lubbock ready to revolutionize the program.
Originally, Davis decided to become a dairy scientist. He grew up first on a wheat farm, then a dairy farm, in eastern Washington, but as he wrapped up his studies at Washington State University, his plans unraveled.
“When you major in ag science at Washington State University, you take plant pathology, floriculture, dairy science, soil science and so forth and so on,” he says. “In my fifth year — I was a double major — I found meat science. That turned out to be my passion and the subject I was most interested in. But that didn't mean I wasn't interested in the others, too, or that I didn't have a background in them.”
Davis also discovered a deep love of teaching. He had a knack for bringing out the best in students regardless of their abilities or aptitude. Following graduation, he taught three years of high school agriculture — a period of pedagogy he deems “the best teaching I ever did” despite his 18 years as a university instructor and faculty member that followed.
Meat science came back into his life through Smith, who previously taught at Washington State before leaving for Texas A&M. Smith is regarded as a meat science legend. Davis arrived in College Station for his master's degree and found a wildly different environment than he'd ever experienced.
“All business,” Davis laughs. “I loved it down there. It was good for me. A lot of discipline.”
Success Begets Success
“When I first came to Texas Tech,” Davis says, “somebody asked me, ‘What is your goal for your judging team?' I said, ‘When other teams are coming to a major contest, and one of the kids in the van will ask, “Who do we have to beat?” I want that coach to say, ‘We have to beat Texas Tech.'”
Texas Tech added 15 plaques to the nearly empty trophy case in his first year of coaching in 1981. The next year, the team added 20, plus the Southwest Exposition, or Fort Worth Stock Show, championship. The year after, 23 more plaques came along with championships at the Houston Livestock Show and Eastern National.
In the summer of 1989, with the meat judging team in the midst of a competitive year, then-Texas Tech President Robert Lawless challenged Davis to win the university's first national championship in the event. In October, Lawless brought the team to his office to reiterate it to the team members.
A month later, Texas Tech won its first meat judging national championship. President Lawless joined their official team photo. It became the first of the team's 16 national titles, a dominance that loomed so large it was covered in national media and included in one of Texas Tech's television advertisements.
“What's it feel like when a team excels all the way to a level to be recognized by Sports Illustrated?” Davis says, summarizing 42 years of work done by so many. He takes a long pause, and his eyes well up. “Proud.”
Within months of the championship, Davis left academia to commit full-time to a small side project he began years earlier. It caught the eye of investors, and Davis began receiving buyout offers.
It's All About the Kids
“I got the idea of bringing an expert to the classroom via video in 1974,” Davis shares, harkening back to a livestock evaluation class while an instructor at Texas A&M. “At that time, video was not a big deal at all. The only experts you had come to speak to a class were if somebody was invited to the class. Some people are big-time experts and the best of the best, and I thought, ‘Well why not bring the best of the best to classrooms all over the country?'”
Davis began developing his idea in the early 1980s at Texas Tech. In 1984, he founded CEV Multimedia. He built its headquarters and studios in Lubbock and assembled a team with a fair number of alumni from Texas Tech and its meat judging teams. Their first clients were two agricultural sciences teachers in Fredericksburg ISD, who purchased a series of meat judging instructional videos.
“We sold all VHS videos from 1984 to 2000, then DVDs in 2001, then went online with up to 108 different courses in 2012,” Davis says of the technology that resulted in the company being renamed iCEV. “Now, we have 1.3 million students and 22,000 teachers online.”
Davis' business also led him to his wife of 22 years, Joyce, through an introduction by one of his CEV employees. Davis' best friend instructed him to screen Joyce by asking her a single question.
“The question was, ‘Who's the Crimson Tide?' She nailed the question because she loves football, and so do I. There have been times where she probably wishes she missed that question,” he laughs.
Joyce, a graduate of the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech, is even more of a fervent Red Raider football fan than Davis. As part of their total gift to Texas Tech, $1 million is designated to the new Womble Football Center.
It's Important to Give Back
Davis abides by four tenets in his life.
First is the “pursuit of excellence,” a goal instilled when his family bought a rundown dairy farm and improved it to become the 1964 Washington State Dairy Family of the Year. It “was the first major award I'd been around,” he says. He brought the motto to the judging teams he coached, and it has permeated the culture for four decades. The phrase lives on as part of Texas Tech's meat judging team's motto of “striving for honor in the pursuit of excellence.”
Second is “success begets success,” a self-explanatory phrase indicative of his teams' and business' thriving reputations.
Third, “it's all about the kids,” which Davis often mentions, referring to keeping students at all levels a priority in his endeavors. Davis firmly believes in students' abilities and the education they receive, which is why he makes them the priority of his philanthropic endeavors.
“I've been around the kids at Texas Tech for 43 years,” he says. “The students Texas Tech puts out in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources are the best there are. They've got passion. They've got work ethic. They love to win. You don't hear anything bad about them.”
His fourth guiding principle is “it's important to give back,” a nugget from soil science professor Bill Bennett in 1979. Bennett served as the associate dean of teaching in the college of agriculture when Davis came aboard and led efforts in fundraising for scholarships to recruit students to Texas Tech.
Davis took Bennett's advice to levels usually reserved for collegiate athletic teams. He began fundraising to start an endowment in 1985 for his meat judging teams to defray costs. In his first year of coaching at Texas Tech, in 1981, the team included Mark Miller, who would spend the next two and a half judging seasons as Davis' assistant coach and become a crucial member in its fundraising efforts. In 1990, Miller returned to Texas Tech — then with his doctorate and coaching experience from the University of Georgia — to become Davis' successor, a position he remains in today and a critical reason for the team's dynasty.
The Davises have since established endowments for operating funds, scholarships and an endowed chair in the meat science program in addition to their support of the meat judging team.
Giving back is a staple of Davis' life, and when the right moment came for him to retire from iCEV, it became the lynchpin of the sale. During negotiations with companies who sought to purchase iCEV, Davis asked a deciding question: “What are you going to do about philanthropy?”
The company that committed to giving back won the bid. Davis cares about the 37 years of employees who made iCEV what it is today and attributes his ability to make this gift to the college to them. Five of iCEV's six highest-ranking employees are Texas Tech alumni, including 2001 meat judging team alumnus Dusty Moore, now iCEV's president and CEO. Davis ensured, as part of the company's sale, all his executives and employees would be retained and the iCEV headquarters would remain in Lubbock.
Davis and the executive team sold the company for millions. With his fourth tenet in mind, he and Joyce knew what impact that amount of money could make for a college with students they had been around for 43 years.
“My wife and I voted 2-0 on this college of ag,” Davis says. “We did this together.”
Their total gift of $45 million is the single largest investment made in Texas Tech University history. It provides a new and immediate investment of $25 million to benefit the college as a whole and to assist the dean and college in achieving aspirational goals. The gift also makes further investments in his passion projects at Texas Tech: $1 million to Texas Tech Athletics toward construction of the Womble Football Center as mentioned above, $4 million in additional support to previous endowments and commitments, and a $15 million estate gift — one of the largest estate gifts in Texas Tech history.
What comes next for Davis?
“Semi-retirement,” he says.
He plans to continue his philanthropy through the Gordon and Joyce Davis Foundation, the office for which he moved into in late December. He looks forward to what his gift might bring: mentoring faculty and students when asked, sitting in on seminars if requested, and seeing Texas Tech become the top agricultural education destination for students from every corner of the country.