University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Former Dean Robert Day Remembered

Former Dean Robert Day Remembered


'A Guiding Light for Cancer Centers Around the Country'

Former Dean Dr. Robert W. Day, one of the early leaders and shapers of the School of Public Health, passed away Saturday, Jan. 6, after a long battle with cancer.

“Bob was a kind, courageous leader and an inspiring mentor to generations of scientists who will miss him greatly,” said SPH Interim Dean Joel Kaufman. “He is remembered for many contributions to the enduring character of the School, including its commitment to research excellence and a culture of collaboration.”

Dr. Day joined the UW to develop the Department of Health Services and became the School’s second dean, from 1972 to 1982, following founding Dean J. Thomas Grayston.  Dr. Day then became president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, serving in those roles until 1997.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Robert W. Day

"As the second Dean of the School of Public Health, Dr. Day played an essential role in broadening the School's educational and service activities to encompass more traditional public health programs," Dr. Grayston said. "He was an excellent and successful administrator."

Dr. Day went on to develop the Fred Hutch into a world class cancer center, Dr. Grayston said. Among his many accomplishments were relocating the Hutch from First Hill to its current location in South Lake Union, where it now covers 15 acres and is known as the Robert W. Day Campus.

“Bob was a man of broad vision and bold ideas, reflected in the creation of the South Lake Union campus for the Hutch, the successful advocacy for the Welcome to Medicare Wellness Visit, and the expansion of the research agenda of the Hutch to embrace HIV/AIDS research and interventions,” said former Dean Gilbert S. Omenn.

Dr. Day recruited Dr. Omenn to become chair of the then-Department of Environmental Health in 1981. Dr. Omenn then replaced Dr. Day as Dean after a national search when the latter moved to the Hutch. “Together with Maureen Henderson, we created the first NCI-funded Cancer Prevention Research Unit and launched many large-scale prevention clinical trials as partnerships of the School and the Hutch,” Dr. Omenn said. “He was keen about emerging genetic/genomic technologies, and he was a guiding light for many cancer centers around the country.  He was also deeply engaged in the Seattle community, including the Seattle Chamber Music Festival and programs to address drug addiction. We continued a great friendship after I moved to Michigan, enhanced by tennis and music.”

Dr. Day began his career in the California Health Department with a focus on genetic services. He earned his MD from the University of Chicago and a master’s in public health and a doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley.

“Bob strongly supported the UW School of Public Health, not only during his tenure as Dean, but his support continued throughout his life,” said former Dean Patricia Wahl and a long-time professor of biostatistics. “He served as Co-Chair of our School’s Campaign Committee, and he was especially eager to explore ways to get a new building for the School.  Bob was kind and generous with his time and always available to offer helpful advice and strategic suggestions. He was a special man in many ways. The School, the Community – both locally and nationally – has lost a valued member.”

Dr. Wahl said Dr. Day enjoyed talking about skiing and his weekends as a volunteer ski patrolman at a local ski area.

“Bob Day was a magnificent man,” said former Dean Howard Frumkin. “Throughout his life he was dedicated to advancing health and well-being, through both clinical medicine and public health, in the lab, the bedside, and the community.  His passions ranged from cancer treatment and prevention to fighting the opioid crisis.  He set the UW School of Public Health on the path to excellence. I was honored to follow in his footsteps as Dean, and fortunate to have counted him as a friend and advisor.  I will miss him greatly, as will our entire community.”

Dr. Day was a UW faculty member from 1968 to 2005, when he became dean emeritus and professor emeritus of health services. In 2016, Dr. Omenn and his wife, Martha Darling, established The Robert W. Day Professor in Public Health, now held by Timothy Thornton, associate professor of biostatistics.

In this 2006 video interview as part of the SPH History Project, Dr. Day spoke about his recollections of the School, how it grew, and how public health challenges have changed over the decades.