‘To serve until I die’

A small, golden bell has pride of place in retired Army Colonel Cecily M. David’s North Side home.

Friends call the house ‘The David Museum’ and the setting represents years of cultural encounters of David’s military service around the world.

In the foyer hangs a painting of four zebras splashing water at a watering hole.

A German castle carved into a wooden case is almost the size of David’s white Westie, Amiga, a therapy dog.

Rice grain Japanese dolls are kept in a glass frame near a bedroom decorated with Southwestern art and memorabilia.

A Christmas tree with official White House ornaments dangling from the branches is still up for months after the holidays. David is holding out for her two grandsons, who could not come in December due to restrictions due to the corona virus.

But the golden bell? That is special.


U.S. Army veteran Dr. Cecily David sits in a Southwestern themed room decorated with her travels at her San Antonio home on May 20, 2021.

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U.S. Army veteran Dr. Cecily David sits in a Southwestern themed room decorated with her travels at her San Antonio home on May 20, 2021.

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Surrounded by memories of her work and traveling the world, including her childhood in Tanzania, US Army veteran Dr. Cecily David sits with her dog, Amiga, at her home in San Antonio on May 20, 2021.

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U.S. Army veteran Dr. Cecily David displays her military medals and mementos of her travels around the world at her San Antonio home on May 20, 2021.

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David, 74, received it 23 years ago as a Christmas gift from employees of Keller Army Community Hospital in West Point, New York, as a humorous symbol of her leadership style.

About the author

Vincent T. Davis, a 22-year veteran of the Air Force, embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. While observing and listening all over San Antonio, he finds intriguing stories about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.

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Two days after taking command, David visited the basement of the hospital, unannounced and alone, quietly in soft-heeled shoes.

She approached a female civilian employee. The woman was surprised not only by the presence of the new commander, but also because David knew her first name.

That was the first of the weekly rounds David would make during her two-year assignment. Those visits led to the selection of a bell as a funny nod to the surprising effect it had on the staff.

“I’m a people person,” said David. “And that’s what I did.”

Her journey began more than 9,500 miles away in Coonoor, India. She lived in South India until 1952 when her father, who worked for the British government, was transferred to Tanzania in East Africa. In the city of Dar-es-Salaam, the family learned that European, Asian and African students attended separate schools, although life outside the classroom was not separate.

When David was 8, an incident at home inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. She was playing barefoot in the garden when she felt a sting in the sole of her foot – a worm had burrowed into the flesh. The family cook took a toothpick and removed the worm without any fuss. That’s when the medical seed was planted.

Then, in 1962, David became a born again Christian in a non-denominational church. It was a pivotal time in her life when thoughts of service seeped into her consciousness.

“Everything that happened to me has had divine intervention,” said David. “Throughout my life I’ve seen God send blessings.”

David’s leadership style has been shaped by humanitarian projects and service to others, including relief missions to Guatemala and Puerta Rico.

David attended one of the best colleges in India – Madras Medical College – where she was motivated by thoughts of her mother, who had no chance to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

After David graduated, she was encouraged to pursue further education in America. In June 1971, David moved to Valhalla, New York, for an internship and residency in pediatrics.

In New York, she met Winston David, a respiratory therapist, through his sister-in-law. After a two-year courtship, they married and crossed the Hudson near West Point, her future workplace.

Keller Hospital still has sentimental value to David – it was the first assignment of her 30-year military career. In 1978 she was commissioned as a major and served as Keller’s assistant chief of pediatrics.

This led to assignments as head of paediatrics at the 95th General Hospital in Nuremberg, Germany. David also served as Commander of the Kirk Army Health Clinic at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and as Commander of the Joel Army Health Clinic in Fort McPherson, Georgia.

In 1998, David became the first female surgeon in command of the United States Military Academy.

As a leader, David encouraged participation. She told her supervisors that they were not unfaithful if they disagreed with her, but that they should be in mind when they left the commander’s conference room.

After retirement, David became an active member of the Flavors of San Antonio, founded by Michelle Newman at the Raindrop Turkish House. She was one of the residents who gave cooking lessons about the kitchen from their home country. Proceeds from the classes went to the charity of the teacher of choice, and David said one of her classes raised $ 800 for a Sikh temple.

David continues to share lessons learned and knowledge about her childhood home with her family throughout her life. In December 2019, the Davids accompanied their son Dilip, a neuropsychologist, and his family to India. They have planned a family trip to Tanzania in 2023.

As a deadly wave of the coronavirus sweeps through her homeland, David does her part to raise money for emergency relief. She is president of the East West Foundation of USA, a 20-year-old group that supports an orphanage and medical clinic in her native India.

David said the clinic cares for impoverished villagers. Older children in the orphanage make masks that are distributed to the villagers. While she can’t be there in person, David is proud that the foundation is helping during the pandemic.

“My philosophy of life is to serve,” said David. “And to keep on serving until I die.”


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