Dr Patricia E. Davison (Physics 1943)

Source: Otago Daily Times, 9 December 2006

From her birth in Turkey to her death in Broad Bay, Dunedin, Patricia Davison's life was shaped by travel and her thirst for knowledge. She died on October 26 at her home in Broad Bay.

Named Patricia Elizabeth Ferguson, she was born in Constantinople (now Instanbul) in Turkey in 1921 to Fergus Ferguson and Janet Nichols.

Throughout her childhood, she moved from country to country because her father was a newspaper correspondent for Reuters news agency. Both parents were high achievers. Her father received a CBE in 1921 for his contribution to his profession in Palestine and her mother became the first woman to come first in a mathematics class at Cambridge University, graduating with an honours degree in mathematics.

Dr Davison attended schools in England, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia. She completed a university degree in physics with honours at Imperial College University of London prior to World War 2, and used her physics training during the war in radar-tracking the German missiles that were bombarding London. Her team of physicists conceived the concept of confusing German radar by aerial tinfoil drops.

After the war, she studied for a medical degree at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There she met and married Patrick "Paddy" Kenneth Davison, in 1950.

She continued working in London as an anaesthetist until her second child, Mary, was born in 1956.
After Mr Davison also graduated in medicine, the family moved to New Zealand, where the couple's third child, Joanna, was born in 1960, followed by Sean a year later.

For the next 10 or so years, the family moved from place to place in New Zealand and England, and travelled around the world by boat. Dr Davison had a hunger for travelling with family to places like South Africa, Mexico, Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal. She wanted to visit any corner of the world, especially if it had an ancient culture as well. These trips sometimes involved long train trips through hot, dusty poor countries, and sleeping in railway stations, local residents' homes or cheap hotels. "We were never tourists, but always travellers - Mum always wanted us to see the world as it really was, and not through the eyes of a tourist," Sean Davison said.

She was a fearless traveller and boldly went where most people would not dream of going, often in scant regard for the military that often controlled such places. "I recall one of the most dramatic trips when she took Mary and myself to Afghanistan through the notoriously dangerous Khyber Pass from Pakistan."

The family eventually ended up Hokitika, on the West Coast, with Dr Davison taking a position as a psychiatrist at Seaview Hospital and her husband becoming superintendent of the facility for 10 years until his retirement in 1979. Dr Davison was in Hokitika for nearly 30 years as her children grew up, were educated at Westland High School and then the University of Otago.

When she retired from Seaview in 1986, she continued to practise medicine into her 70s, as a locum in general practice at Whataroa and other South Island centres - Hokitika, Greymouth, Granity, Blackball and Riverton. After her husband died in 1995, Dr Davison decided to move to Dunedin to be closer to family. In Broad Bay, she further developed her love of painting, regularly attending a variety of art classes.

Sean Davison said his childhood was full of memories of his mother sketching and sitting in fields painting mountains. "Even as a psychiatrist at Seaview Hospital, she was known to sketch her outpatients while they were having consultations with her, thinking she was feverishly writing down notes."

Dr Davison was a modest and humble person, and in spite of her intellect and talent she never boasted or spoke of her achievements, he said.

As an artist, she regularly burned her paintings and never hung any of her works in her own house. "Each year I came home, I would rescue dozens of pictures before they went on the fire."

Mr Davison believed his mother should not be remembered for her talent but for her personality. "She was one of the most selfless people I have met. She was kind, generous and loving. She was extremely modest and humble and at all times she maintained her dignity."

She was a wonderful friend, with people drawn to her unpretentiousness, her modesty and her kind, gentle nature, he said. "She seemed to have a magical touch which left people wanting to know her better and keep seeing her."

Dr Davison had a ferocious appetite for reading. "The Dunedin Public Library will vouch for the fact that she would constantly have about 20 items out at any one time. There seemed to be nothing that Mum did not know, and if she found some gap in her knowledge, she would quickly search the answer."

Dr Davison is survived by her children, Fergus Davison, Mary Davison, Joanna Ewer, and Sean Davison.

Press office

Press Office
Communications and Public Affairs

Click to expand or contract

Contact details

Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk