From its earliest days, Mayo Clinic had connections to Florida. In the 1890s, when railroads first brought tourists to Florida, William Worrall Mayo, M.D., enjoyed spending time in St. Augustine, near Jacksonville. His eldest son, Dr. Will, who usually combined professional and avocational interests on his travels, visited Florida often. Dr. Will’s boat, the North Star, docked at Jacksonville on a 2,500-mile trip across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic coast of Florida in 1925.
Mayo Clinic also drew patients from Florida. Among them were members of the Davis family of Jacksonville, founders of the Winn-Dixie grocery store chain. James Elsworth (J.E.) Davis and his brothers, with their families, began coming to Mayo Clinic in 1948. The brothers’ commitment to seeking excellent medical care was inspired in part by the premature death of their father in 1934 due to a misdiagnosed condition.
J.E. Davis developed close friendships with Hugh Butt, M.D., and many of his colleagues on the Mayo Clinic staff. During a telephone call on a winter morning in 1978, Dr. Butt mentioned that he almost suffered frostbite walking to work in a temperature of 30 degrees below zero. Mr. Davis replied that Mayo should consider expanding into the Sunbelt.
From this conversation, an action plan developed, with the Davis family taking the lead in offering philanthropic support and entrée to the community. Many factors augured that the timing was right — among them, the U.S. population was trending to the south and new technology facilitated communication between remote locations. The concept of opening in Florida worked its way through the Mayo system of committees and boards, but, at the point of decision, Mayo Clinic respectfully declined. Persistent in his vision, loyalty and generosity, J.E. Davis wrote to Mayo’s senior leadership, explaining that he understood challenges from his own business experience: “Those who survive will very likely be those who recognize the need for change and are willing to take action and risk.”
Conversations resumed, and the Davis family stepped forward with an additional gift of land and other support, including a community-based fundraising drive, to help Mayo build and support the new facility. After further analysis, Mayo gratefully accepted. Amid gathering momentum, a vision for Mayo Clinic in Florida evolved. It would not be a “satellite,” but rather a full-fledged Mayo presence with the three-shield focus on patient care, education and research.
Even before it opened, more than 2,700 patients from 30 states and six countries had made appointments. The clinic opened on Oct. 13, 1986. Notable developments on the campus include the opening of a hospital adjoining the outpatient practice in 2008. The founders’ vision continues today, as the Florida campus plays a key role in Mayo Clinic’s mission of serving humanity and advancing medical science.