• August 28, 2015

Maria Ragland Davis, 52, Did Research to Help Developing Countries

Maria Ragland Davis, 52, an associate professor of biology who was one of three academics killed on Friday in the shooting at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, started at the university in 2002. Her background was in chemical engineering and biochemistry, and she specialized in plant pathology and biotechnology applications.

She also specialized in student encouragement, said C.S. Prakash, a professor of plant molecular genetics at Tuskegee University, Ms. Davis's friend of almost 20 years. He said she was committed to involving young people, especially minority students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in science. That commitment dated back to when she was working in the private sector, he said.

"She was one of very few African-American scientists," Mr. Prakash said. "She was a great role model."

Over the years, Mr. Prakash would ask Ms. Davis to come speak to students at Tuskegee, a historically black institution, about working in the sciences. "She was always willing to come and help us out," he said. Ms. Davis was personable and affable, Mr. Prakash said, and students responded to her enthusiasm for science. "She had a way of connecting with many of them." He believes Ms. Davis motivated hundreds of students to go into science during her lifetime. "I think that is going to be her legacy."

She had a doctorate in biochemistry and had worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Monsanto Company in St. Louis. She was hired at the University of Alabama after a seven-year stint as a senior scientist in the plant-science department at Research Genetics Inc. (later Invitrogen), also in Huntsville.

Jim Hudson, founder of Research Genetics, met Ms. Davis in the early 1990s, when she was a professor at Alabama A&M University, doing agricultural genetics research. He recruited her to work in his company's research-and-development department.

Ms. Davis studied strawberries, looking at the genetic makeup of strains that were drought-resistant and those that were not.

"She was a dedicated, outstanding researcher who did some significant genomics research and went on to be a great instructor," Mr. Hudson said.

After the company was sold and moved to California, she was offered a job at the university in Huntsville. "She was a great private-sector researcher, but she was meant to be a professor," Mr. Hudson said. "She loved to teach; she inspired students. I was so happy when they gave her a job and tenure."

Bruce W. Stallsmith, an assistant professor in biological sciences at Huntsville, said she was passionate about her work, which included research that helped developing countries.

"Maria Davis was a very focused researcher who could talk to anyone at length about strawberries that she worked with," Mr. Stallsmith said. She was also a "very committed gardener at home, something that she thought about a lot and meant a lot to her."

She received a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, a master's degree in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University, and a doctorate in biochemistry, also from North Carolina State. After her fellowship at Monsanto, she worked from 1994 to 1995 as a research assistant professor at Alabama A&M.

On her university Web site, she described how students working in her laboratory would be trained to answer practical biological questions using biochemical, molecular, and genomics techniques while collaborating with other scientific labs on the campus, nationally, and internationally.

She is survived by Sammie Lee Davis, her husband.


1. khanm - February 15, 2010 at 12:22 am

So sorry to hear about this tragic loss. My heartfelt condolence to her husband, other family members and friends.

2. rono_uga - February 15, 2010 at 11:15 am

There are no words to express the senselessness of the tragedy that brought an end to the lives of such wonderful people. I was blessed to have known Maria, and counted Maria as one of my professional friends. My life is richer for having known her. My prayers and thoughts go out to all of the victims of this tragedy, their families, the UAH community, and all of the other people lucky enough to have known these individuals.

3. skottd - February 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

4. kdliddell - February 15, 2010 at 01:16 pm

Any type of campus shooting is terrible tregedy. May God Bless her family and the campus community. To placed petty politics into this situation just shows how people really "value" life.

5. ncmsen2005 - February 15, 2010 at 03:33 pm

Petty politics, for sure, have no place in such tragic circumstances. We must always celebrate life and not the taking of life for whatever reason, most especially when all the facts are not universally known.

6. imillsh - February 15, 2010 at 07:34 pm


What resume are you looking at? This professor went to great schools and performed a postdoc at one of the top chemical companies. Just because it is not Harvard, doesn't mean that she was not well qualified for her position. You have no idea how much grant money is available for people who work on transgenic plants. You have no basis for your accusations except for the fact that the professor is African American. How racist of you to assume automatically that she received tenure because of her race and not her qualifations based off of a few hundred word article. Your comments are pathetic and have no place here.

7. loismarie - February 15, 2010 at 07:36 pm

Maria Ragland Davis' resume was not mediocre . . . she had an earned PH.D.
Get a life!
lmh - Ohio

8. christianmc - February 15, 2010 at 08:42 pm

I couldn't have said it better myself imillsh. The comments from skottd are rude, senless, and inconsiderate of the tragedy at hand. May god bless Professor David. She's a truly wonderful woman and will be truly missed by all.

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