In memoriam: Philanthropist and business leader Robert Addison Day

Robert Day poses for portrait photo
Claremont McKenna trustee and philanthropist Robert Addison Day CM ’65 died on Sept. 14 at the age of 79. (Courtesy: Claremont McKenna College)

Longtime Claremont McKenna College (CMC) trustee, philanthropist and champion of 5C finance students Robert Addison Day CM ’65 died at the age of 79 on Sept. 14. His passing was announced in an email sent to CMC’s student body on Sept. 18.

Day was born in 1943 in Los Angeles to Robert A. Day and Willametta Keck Day. In 1960, he enrolled at CMC, then known as Claremont Men’s College, where he majored in economics and served as a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

In a statement released on CMC’s website, former CMC president Jack Stark CM ’57 said he and his wife are deeply grieving Day’s passing. Day — who went by the nickname ‘Bo’ in college — had been a dear friend since his sophomore year at CMC.

After graduating from CMC in 1965, Robert Day found swift success with his business-finance career in New York, where he worked with the investment banking firm White, Weld and Company. In 1971, he returned to California to found the Trust Company of the West finance firm. Thirty years later, he sold the company for $2.5 billion.

Day often attributed his success to his alma mater and to the quality of the education he received there, displaying his commitment to the college by joining CMC’s Board of Trustees at age 29 — its youngest-elected member — in 1970.

“Each year, I recognize more and more the value of my CMC education,” Day said in 2007. “It is my sincere wish that by giving back to the College in this way, we will help shape the next generation of leaders.”

Throughout his years as a trustee, his gifts to CMC were used to found some of CMC’s most recognizable programs. Perhaps most notably, Robert Day’s record-breaking $200 million gift in 2007 — the largest donation to a liberal arts college at its time — funded the creation of the Robert Day Scholars (RDS) Program.

The program instructs and prepares selected students for leadership roles in a variety of industries, such as financial services, consulting, technology and not-for-profit organizations. Along with receiving extensive mentoring, Robert Day Scholars, who undergo an intensive application and interview process, are awarded up to $10,000 to fund their ambitions.

“Robert Day’s innovative vision is designed to educate some of the most talented young people in the world today with the best possible curriculum, internships and leadership development for preparation to lead in a fast-changing world,” former CMC President Pamela Gann said at the time of the donation.

At the time of the donation, Day said that the goal of the program was to “identify the leaders of tomorrow and provide an outstanding education that will prepare them for significant roles.”

CMC honored his contribution by renaming the economics department the Robert Day School of Economics and Finance.

Day donated two more gifts totaling $60 million to CMC in 2018 and 2021. These donations helped fund the groundbreaking Robert Day Sciences Center, set to open in 2025. The center, which is estimated to be around 120,000 square feet, will act as a hub for collaboration, research and interdisciplinary studies.

His legacy is felt by the students whose lives he touched with his generosity.

“Robert Day’s generosity in making and funding this sort of program is kind of what drew me to this school over other liberal arts colleges,” Riley Lai CM ’25, a student in the RDS Program, said. “I didn’t get to meet him personally, but I know the kind of impact he’s made on the RDS program as well as the school, so I’m very grateful to him for what he’s done.”

To Caden Rogers CM ’25, another student in the program, Day’s impact on the college is immeasurable. Rogers said Day’s work created an abundance of opportunities for him, especially with regard to his career interests.

“I think if I just reflect on my personal CMC experience, at least a significant portion of it is directly attributable to things that he’s done,” Rogers said.

Michelle Chamberlain, the dean of the RDS program, reflected on Day’s impact as well, citing his leadership as one of his most memorable qualities.

“Mr. Day was a beloved classmate, generous mentor and visionary philanthropist whose legacy is woven into the very fabric of our College,” Chamberlain said in an email to CMC’s student body. “His extraordinary leadership for over a half century has created — and will continue to create into the future — countless opportunities for generations who call CMC home.”

Day’s commitment to giving back by donating his time and wealth wasn’t only limited to CMC. During his time as chairman of the Keck Foundation — which was established by his grandfather, William Myron Keck — he oversaw the distribution of more than $2 billion in grants.

He also shared his wealth of knowledge with the world; he served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under George W. Bush, and in 2006, was awarded the Decoration of Officier de la Legion D’Honneur from the Government of France.

“As a dear friend, loyal alumnus, global business leader, dedicated Board chair and visionary donor, Robert’s personal, professional and philanthropic commitment to Claremont McKenna is extraordinary. The legacy of his impact is incalculable,” CMC President Hiram Chodosh said. “The entire CMC community and everyone we serve will benefit from the dividends of Robert’s investments for generations to come.”

Day is survived by his children Joseph, DiDi and Jon Day, his grandchildren Taj, Sosi, Avo and Ziggy, his wife Marlyn Day and his brother Matt Day and his family.

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