Philanthropist Robert A. Day passes away at 79

Former President Bill Clinton and Robert Day at his Edgartown home, "Daybreak." —Courtesy of the Day Family

Edgartown summer resident and well-known business leader and investor Robert Addison Day passed away on Sept. 14. He was 79.

Day’s philanthropic work included support for and investments in a number of Island organizations, including significant contributions to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Day was the longtime chairman and chief executive officer of the W.M. Keck Foundation, in addition to having been the founder, former chairman, and chief executive officer of Trust Co. of the West (TCW), a global asset management firm. The Keck foundation, which was founded by Day’s grandfather, William Keck, the founder of Superior Oil, is responsible for awarding more than $2 billion in grants to support science, engineering, and medical research, along with various educational programs. 

On Martha’s Vineyard, Day hosted family and friends at his summer home, known as Daybreak, and was an avid supporter of numerous local organizations, including the Island’s Boys & Girls Club, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Vineyard Preservation Trust, and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Through his foundation, Day donated a total of $500,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in 2016; $400,000 of it was for the creation of the school’s Jordan Science Center, a laboratory named in honor of his close friend, Vernon Jordan — a civil rights activist, Washington lawyer, and political advisor.

Though not in the role at the time of the construction of the science wing, Charter School Director Pete Steedman says he’s fortunate to be able “to witness the incredible results that have transpired because of [Day’s] generosity.” 

“Although I never met him, I can certainly speak to the impact he’s had on our small community,” he said. “He wanted to give our students the best equipment and space possible, but he also wanted to make sure it fit with the general spirit of the building,” Steedman said, adding that the state-of-the-art facility has proven to be “an amazing space for students.”

Steedman credits Day’s donation to the recently introduced international baccalaureate program — one of the most rigorous academic programs in the world — which has enabled Charter School students to maximize their opportunities in science.

Those programs have paid off, with a number of graduates enrolling in top-tier colleges and universities. 

Further, the most recent MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) scores show Charter School students excelling in science compared with the state average. 

“You have to think Robert Day had something to do with that,” Steedman said. “His significant contribution is changing the lives of our students.”

“He impacted the lives of students he never met,” he said. “And generations following.”

Day was also the largest individual donor to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital campaign.

He was “one of our great Vineyard philanthropists,” Island attorney Ron Rappaport and close friend to Day, shared with The Times Wednesday. “He was a wonderful, philanthropic, generous, loyal person … I treasured his friendship.”

Rappaport, whose family often enjoyed boat rides, birthdays, and gatherings with the Days over the past three decades, said Day will always be remembered for how “quietly philanthropically generous he was,” adding that his passing marks “a loss for the Vineyard.”

Day was also a member of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Corp. for more than 30 years, serving as a WHOI trustee from 1996 to 2016. WHOI reps say Day’s philanthropy has had “tremendous impact” on the institute’s acoustic work and autonomous deep sea vehicles.

Day served on many boards of directors throughout his career, including the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where Day was named life trustee, Société Générale, which acquired TCW in 2001, Freeport-McMoran, and Fisher Scientific. 

Day helped guide many contributions made by the Keck foundation to organizations and causes throughout Los Angeles, the state of California, and around the country. His largest projects include Keck Medicine of USC; Claremont McKenna College’s Robert Day Sciences Center; UCLA’s Keck Biomedical Initiative; the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative; Los Angeles County Museum of Arts; the Keck Institute for Space Studies at California Institute of Technology; Chapman University’s Keck Center of Science and Engineering; the Keck Graduate Institute at Claremont Colleges; COVID-19 research at USC andUCLA; and safety net grants.

Through generous contributions, Day has supported the UCLA Department of Surgery with the Robert and Kelly Day Surgical Endowment, which has since enhanced surgical research, teaching, and the patient care mission of the David Geffen School of Medicine, along with gifting his alma mater, the Stevenson School, with donations that led to the naming of the Day Science and Engineering Center, in honor of his two brothers, Matt and T.J., who also graduated from the school.

From Los Angeles, Day was born in 1943 to Robert Addison Day and Willamette Keck Day. He is survived by his children Joe (and his wife, Ambassador Nina Hachigian, ret.), DiDi, and Jon; his four grandchildren; his wife, Marlyn Day; and his brother, Matt Day, and his family.


  1. As the owner of The Oyster Bar / An American Bistro, I was fortunate to get to know Robert quite well over the years. He loved the Oyster Bar and would reserve a table for 8 (usually expanded to 10+) every weekend that he flew in from L.A. (and that was just about every one over the summer season) and when he didn’t he used his table for staff and/or friends. He would bring a box of Monte Cristo cigars every time he came and would, without any ceremony, hand it to me before he ever took his seat. He exemplified everything good about a wealthy and educated man without any of the baggage that normally comes with that position. He was “everyman” and I along with any Islander who was lucky enough to have known him will miss him. He will never be duplicated or replaced, but he will be remembered!

  2. Thank you, Raymond – This brought tears to my eyes remembering my father there and how much he enjoyed his nights out at your great establishments.

    One of those was my bachelor party, almost 30 years ago at the Oyster Bar, when you took us all in such kind stride. I’m still grateful for your forbearance – and, happily, still married to Nina. Another night my dad introduced himself to a polite and then bemused Spike Lee at a neighboring table. They talked for a while, long enough for my sister Didi and me to debate whether Dad should start with She’s Gotta Have It or Do the Right Thing… We stayed too late for a movie that night.

    I hope all is very well for you, Raymond, and love that the Times got my dad so right. I really wish he could read this one. He was always very proud of his role in the Jordan Science Center and whenever he could help out on the island.

    Thank you & missing the Vineyard badly,

    • I met your father many times while working at daybreak. He was a pleasure to be around. Just a genuinely nice guy that cared about all the little people. I’m sorry for your loss, he was one of a kind. A true gentleman.

  3. I was fortunate to have worked for the Day family for a number of years. Robert was one of my heroes. He taught me quite a few life lessons that I still practice. He loved Martha’s Vineyard and was always happy to be here. The Vineyard was lucky to have him as a member of the community. Whenever I drive down Main Street in Edgartown and see the lanterns, I will think of Robert and all he has done for our island.

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