He learned to play tennis while serving overseas.

Rex Stuart Davis was drafted into the US Army during the Korean War, serving from 1953⁠—the year he was married⁠—to 1955. He perfected his serve in Seoul, then introduced the sport to military members and their families as a physical activities specialist at Camp Zama, Japan.

Rex Davis sits in front of WSU tennis courts
Rex Davis (Courtesy Corbeill Funeral Homes)

The experience was life-changing. Davis spent the rest of his life coaching, teaching, and playing tennis, mostly at Washington State University.

Davis (’53, ’61 MS Phys. Ed.) died October 10, 2023, in Pullman. He was 91.

“Rex Davis will forever be a true Cougar,” says former WSU athletic director Pat Chun. “From student-athlete to professor to head coach, Rex was a part of the fabric of Washington State University for 30-plus years and left his mark on the countless student-athletes he mentored. His caring nature endeared him not only to his players, but made him a pillar in the Pullman community.”

Davis arrived in Pullman from Richland in 1949 as a promising freshman gymnast who went on to earn three varsity letters and serve as team captain his senior year. He was also a member of the cheer squad.

He returned to WSU more than a decade after graduation to teach and to lead the men’s gymnastics program. The gig was short-lived, lasting from 1966 to 1968.

But, a year after he came back to Pullman, he added men’s tennis to his repertoire, coaching the team from 1967 until the program’s end in 1994 and amassing 269 wins. From 1983 to 1990, he also coached women’s tennis, garnering another 91 wins. His all-time total⁠—360 victories⁠—made him the fourth-winningest coach in WSU history at the time of his retirement.

Along the way, he earned his doctoral degree in education from the University of Idaho.

In 1995, a year after he retired, he won the WSU Alumni Achievement Award, and the central court at the WSU tennis facility was named in his honor. In 2015, he was inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame.

He met the love of his life, Alice (’53 Music Ed.), at church during college. He attended Simpson United Methodist Church, where she sang in the choir. According to his obituary, “it was love at first sight.” The couple married July 11, 1953, in Walla Walla.

He is survived by his wife and partner of 70 years, their four children, 12 grandchildren⁠—all of whom Davis taught to play tennis⁠—and seven great-grandchildren. Each of their children⁠—Vicky Elliott (x’77), Cathy Healy (’79 Ed.), Gary Davis (’84 Const. Mgmt.), and Penny Davis (’89 Rec. & Leis. Stud.)⁠—attended WSU. Gary played one year on the WSU tennis team with his dad as coach and continued summer leagues with his dad until his ninetieth birthday. Penny played WSU tennis for four years with her dad as coach.

Last year, in a note to Washington State Magazine, he wrote: “Thanks, WSU. You are, and have been, a big part of our lives over the years.”