The Rev. Robert Charles Day died peacefully of natural causes on Jan. 23 after living a life of service, teaching and community involvement in Boston and on Martha’s Vineyard. He was 90 years old, and is survived by his wife of 54 years, Barbara Blackwell Whidden Day.
The Rev. Day was an academic and intellectual leader with a reserved and profound religious and social conviction, a person of integrity, dedication, serenity and optimism. As headmaster of The Advent School on Beacon Hill in Boston, he respected each child, cared deeply for the school families, and admired the faculty and administration. He served as an Episcopal minister at The Church of the Advent on Brimmer Street and at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. The Rev. Day was devoted to his family, including his nine grandchildren, and in his later years enjoyed nothing more than holding Barbara’s hand while enjoying a cup of tea.
Born July 29, 1927, in Hackensack, N.J., to Harvey Carter Day and Sophie Therese Bausback, The Rev. Day had an older brother, Harvey Carter Day, Jr., who predeceased him. After graduating from high school in Wilmington, Del., he served in the U.S. Army from 1945-1946 and went on to graduate from the University of Delaware in 1949. He was then awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and taught English in Kavala, Greece, from 1955-1956, earning an MA in English language and literature from Oxford University’s Corpus Christi College in Oxford, England, in 1959.
Upon returning to the U.S., The Rev. Day taught English at The Greer School in New York, Gunnery School in Connecticut, Groton School in Groton, Mass., and St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire before heeding the call to become an Episcopal minister. He earned his Masters of Divinity in 1965 from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. In 1966 he was ordained a minister at The Church of the Advent, where he served for many years.
In the summer of 1964 during the height of the civil rights movement, The Rev. Day and Barbara left Boston to teach students at Miles College in Birmingham, Ala. This trip inspired his passion to build a school as a model for integration and opportunity for all children, as he explained several years later: “Barbara and I both realized elementary school is where we need to start, this foundation was the most important. The Advent School was the place where we could do something special and meaningful, and enact what the nation was struggling so hard to do.”
Shortly thereafter, in 1965, The Rev. Day became headmaster of the newly formed Advent School, where he remained for 30 years until 1995. Building a school that offered a progressive, integrated education in Boston was of paramount importance to him. During his leadership, he helped transform the school into a thriving independent school that served a diverse community and proudly pioneered progressive teaching methods. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared May 5, 1995, Robert C. Day Day, in honor of The Rev. Day and his contributions to the city, and he was featured in “Legendary Locals of Beacon Hill,” a book on prominent local figures. He was a trustee on the boards of Beacon Hill’s Hill House Community Center and the Commonwealth School in Boston, he was a founding trustee of the Historic Neighborhoods Foundation, and a member of the Urban Mission Committee of the Diocese of Massachusetts, Finance Subcommittee.
During his active retirement, The Rev. Day and Barbara settled year-round on Martha’s Vineyard where they cherished the island community and natural beauty as longtime seasonal residents with a family association through Barbara spanning six generations. He served at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven as a substitute and assistant minister near where he and Barbara, a local artist, raised their three children during summers in a former fisherman’s cottage that was sold to The Rev. Day on a handshake. After moving full time to the island, the couple settled in rural West Tisbury, which offered unlimited gardening opportunities for Father Day.
During their 23 years of residence in West Tisbury, The Rev. Day and Barbara were politically active, and he became involved in several community groups and roles. The Rev. Day was a commissioner of the West Tisbury Conservation Commission, a counselor at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, elected to the West Tisbury Park and Recreation Commission, a board member of Howe’s House and of Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society and president of the Grace Church preschool board. He also enjoyed leading a book group and attending the First Third men’s luncheons at the Harbor View Hotel. For many years, The Rev. Day and Barbara continued to enjoy season theater tickets in Boston with dear friends.
The Rev. Day relished long walks in the Boston Common, the Public Garden, Arnold Arboretum, Menemsha Hills and Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank properties, swimming at Stonewall Beach and Nashaquitsa Pond, and playing charades and board games. He particularly enjoyed gardening, and nurtured his peonies, catmint, phlox and hydrangeas. The Rev. Day rose early and exercised daily, loved reading and listening to classical music, and was known to sing cheerful ditties. He and Barbara traveled extensively with family and friends across the U.S. and in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe.
During his life, The Rev. Day thoughtfully planted many seeds and steadily tended many gardens across the multiple spheres of his life. He will be greatly missed, but his gardens will continue to bloom in his honor and in service to others.
The Rev. Day is survived by his wife, Barbara, daughter Catherine Day-Carlson and husband, Dave, daughter Elizabeth Churchill, and son Matthew Day and wife Tracy, along with loving grandchildren Jessica, Jack Lucas, Scott, Frederick, Robert, Lucy, Jackson, Garrett, and Caroline. He was sadly predeceased by his son-in-law, John Churchill. A small family service was held in Sarasota, Fla., where the couple moved in October to be near family.
The Rev. Day will be buried at Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark. A celebration of his life will be held in July at Grace Episcopal Church, Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard. Contact Grace Church at 508-693-0332 for the date and time.
In lieu of flowers, consider contributing to the Robert C. Day Financial Aid Fund, c/o The Advent School, 15 Brimmer St., Boston, MA 02108 or go to https://adventschool.networkforgood.com/projects/45771-rev-robert-c-day-financial-aid-fund.