Dick Davidson, the American Hospital Association’s president emeritus, died yesterday at age 79. Davidson had retired on Jan. 1, 2007, after having served 16 years in the AHA’s top leadership role, and was the second longest-serving president in the association’s 118-year history.

Rick Pollack, current AHA CEO and president, remembers Davidson as “an innovative and visionary leader, a consensus builder, and a friend and mentor to many throughout our field." Davidson “believed deeply in the special role that hospitals play in the lives of the patients and communities they serve.”

Davidson led the association through a period of significant change when many hospitals evolved into health systems with multiple sites and services. Under his leadership, the AHA undertook a wide range of policy and legislative initiatives to help its members meet the demands of the rapidly changing environment. It led national efforts to expand health care coverage, improve patient safety and increase minority representation in health management.

In 2007, he received the AHA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes significant lifetime contributions and service to the nation’s health care institutions and the association. The annual Dick Davidson Quality Milestone Award for Allied Association Leadership was established to recognize a state, regional or metropolitan hospital association that demonstrates exceptional organizational leadership and innovation in quality improvement and has made significant contributions to the measurable improvement of quality within its geographic area.

Davidson also was the first president of the Maryland Hospital Association, serving from 1969 to 1991. During his time there, the organization received national recognition for its work on trustee involvement in state association affairs, payment reform, the development of clinical quality indicators and medical and corporate values and ethics in the hospital setting.

Born in Philadelphia, Davidson earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from West Chester University and Temple University, respectively, and a doctorate in education from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Of his wife Janet, whom he met in as a teenager, he once said, “She is the wing beneath my wings. And that’s probably an understatement.” They were devoted parents and grandparents.

Davidson was succeeded at the AHA by Rich Umbdenstock, who retired as CEO and president last fall, handing the reins to Pollack.