Since opening in 1923, North Carolina Baptist Hospital has undergone many physical changes, but one structure stands unaltered—Davis Memorial Chapel. It is a tangible link to the original hospital building and two key founders and remains a vital sanctuary for those involved in the healing work of the hospital.

“Although the chapel reflects the Christian tradition, we work hard to create a hospitable place for people of all faith traditions,” said the Rev. Christopher R. Gambill, PhD, associate vice president for the FaithHealth division at the medical center. “About 85 people visit Davis Chapel daily. Many hospital teammates stop by at the beginning or end of a work shift or attend a formal service. Some meditate or pray. Others listen to music, play the piano and even sing.”

Davis Chapel today is reflected in the modern, glass facade of Watlington Hall, but it was previously attached to the “Old Main” building demolished in 1978. Finding no space inside, the chapel’s benefactors chose a site near the main entrance, and the new structure assumed the proportions of a small church. Its prominence, architectural beauty and open doors to all have served it well.  

Remembering Hospital Founders

The chapel is named in memory of Egbert Lawrence Davis (1882-1974) and his wife, Annie Pearl Shore Davis (1884-1942). Egbert helped bring North Carolina Baptist Hospital to Winston-Salem. He was chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees from inception in 1922 until 1941, and he played an important role in moving Wake Forest’s medical school to Winston-Salem. 

A health crisis when he was a young man may have inspired Egbert’s support of a hospital. After graduating from Wake Forest College in 1904, he planned to attend Harvard Law School. That summer at the family farm in Yadkin County, he contracted appendicitis. He was taken 22 miles in a horse-drawn wagon to Twin City Hospital. He survived, but with a ruptured appendix his recovery changed his plans.

Egbert sold insurance, worked on the family farm, and helped at his grandfather’s country store until 1906, when he was offered a job with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., selling across the South and then in Chicago. He eventually advanced to general sales manager and retired from the company in 1926.

In 1919, the Baptist State Convention appointed a hospital commission that selected Winston-Salem for the location and appointed a board of trustees for the hospital. Egbert, a member of Brown Memorial Baptist Church (later merged with First Baptist Church), was elected board chairman, and a site then referred to as “the wilds of Ardmore,” was chosen for the hospital construction. 

Annie Pearl served as president of the Baptist Hospital Women’s Auxiliary, which enlisted Baptist women statewide to sew bedsheets and linens for the hospital when it opened. She is remembered for growing head-high dahlias and bringing carloads of flowers to brighten the wards. 

Building a Beautiful Sanctuary

Egbert and Annie Pearl had four children: Egbert L. Davis Jr., Pauline (Pinkie) Davis Perry, Julia Davis Pollard and Thomas (Tom) Henry Davis. Like his father, Egbert Jr. (1911-2006) was a prominent Baptist, a Wake Forest alumnus, and chairman of the hospital trustees.

In a 1979 oral history interview, Egbert Jr. recalled his mother Annie Pearl becoming a patient a year or so after the hospital opened. While making Sunday visits to her neighbors, she felt ill. Egbert insisted on stopping by the hospital, where doctors diagnosed appendicitis. “That afternoon they operated, and in just a relatively short time, Mother was well and happy and getting along fine because of the development of medical knowledge and the availability of services here.”

When Annie Pearl died unexpectedly in the hospital in 1942, Egbert Jr. recalled how that led to the idea for a chapel: “The family was called, and we rushed over here. There was no place in this institution … for bereaved families to meet …. After that experience, my father and the family decided that if there was any way, we would build a chapel for the hospital.”

Egbert Jr. spearheaded building the chapel. With World War II underway, material shortages and other challenges delayed the project. The chapel was dedicated on March 23, 1956.

A Tudor Gothic-style colonial brick and limestone building, the chapel was constructed to complement Old Main and the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. Inside, limestone walls and oak woodwork evoke a timeless feel. Artistic symbols abound, including a bronze seal in the narthex recognizing Hippocrates (the founder of medical science), hand-painted wooden ceiling panels with Biblical images, and a window over the east exit door featuring a dahlia, a favorite of Annie Pearl.

Continuing the Davis Legacy

Egbert Jr. and his wife, Eleanor (1911-1985), had four children: Egbert Lawrence Davis III, Linwood Layfield Davis, Anne Davis Hummel, and Patricia (Patsy) Davis Duke. Lawrence and Linwood, both attorneys, continued the family’s service as trustees of the hospital. 

“Linwood and his wife, Martha, remain active in the care and nurture of the chapel—attending services, decorating for holidays, and even participating in services on occasion,” Chris noted. “The Davis family’s passion for this building and the spiritual care it provides has not diminished over the years, assuring that their legacy of caring will continue into the future.”

What might Egbert Jr. think if he could see the 68-year-old chapel still standing and used continuously?

“My father would be greatly reassured,” Linwood said. “He would love that it is just like it was when it was designed. He worked closely with the architect, who came up with the idea of the 23rd Psalm as the theme for the stained-glass windows, chosen for the universal appeal of this Biblical text. He always wanted the chapel to be welcoming for anyone needing a place for solace.”

And so, it remains.