Robert ‘Bob’ Day R.I.P.

Anacostia Community Boathouse Association. Photo: ClearSpan Fabric Structures.

8 August 2017

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

Last week, I was reached by the sad news that Robert ‘Bob’ Day of Silver Springs, Maryland, had passed away in June, two days after he had turned 83.

Bob Day

Bob Day was born in 1934 in Evanston, Illinois. After Bob had graduated from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, he continued his studies at Cornell University. He had rowed in high school and he continued to do so at Cornell, where he graduated in 1956. Bob received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in what was then West Germany. Coming back to the United States, he began a diplomatic career and through the years he would be stationed at U.S. Embassies in East Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia and Iran.

Before his retirement from the diplomatic corps, he turned back to one of his great interests, rowing. In 1988, he and five others created the Organization for Anacostia Rowing and Sculling, with a dream of a programme for youths on the Anacostia River, which flows from Prince George’s County in Maryland into Washington, D.C. They hoped to be able to use the Anacostia Park with its easy access to the water, but this was turned down by the National Park Service (NPS), which managed the river. However, the group found a narrow sidewalk leading down to the river between the 11th Street Bridges and the Navy Yard that provided access to the river.

Bob immediately began looking for docks, ramps and old racing shells. And boats would soon come from local colleges, clubs and the Naval Academy – he even managed to ‘liberate’ an old rowing barge from Cornell. The boats were stored in a hall under the 11th Street Bridges. By 1989, there were youngsters rowing on the river and by 1992, the rowers competed in local regattas. The programme has grown into the Anacostia Community Boathouse Association (ACBA), which is an umbrella organisation for several groups that are using the site for both rowing and paddling.

A few years ago, the city decided to replace the 11th Street Bridges. The new bridge system was going right through the Anacostia Boathouse, so a new site had to be found upriver below the railroad bridge by the Seafarers Yacht Club. With the move also came the decision to get rid of some of the old boats. This is the point where I came to know Bob.

I first met Bob and his wife Diana in July 2010, when they were on a trip visiting family in Groton Long Point in Connecticut. Bob had heard that the National Rowing Foundation (NRF) had stored its collection of racing shells in the Watercraft Hall at Mystic Seaport. Meeting the Days at the Watercraft Hall was also Hart Perry, the then executive director of the NRF. We all hit it off extremely well from the start. Bob proved to be as enthusiastic for the sport of rowing as Hart and I, and Bob and Hart told rowing stories like no one else. With Hart’s great net of contacts in the sport, Bob and he immediately found mutual friends in the rowing world. Another thing they had in common was ‘collecting’; they were incapable of throwing out things, and it was this that had taken Bob and his wife to Mystic Seaport. Would the NRF, Bob asked Hart, be willing to accept ‘rowing stuff’ that the Anacostia group could not bring to their new site? Hart accepted Bob’s offer on the spot. However, as there already was all different kinds of George Pocock shells in the NRF’s collection, Hart would sadly decline any more boats – well, with one exception, Hart needed a double or a pair. Did Bob have one? Of course, Bob had an old, wooden Pocock boat for Hart. Though, it was not really Hart who needed the shell, it was Hart’s favourite eatery, The Mystic Boathouse, that was looking for a boat to hang from the ceiling. Bob promised to get a boat for Hart in that coming autumn, together with some other rowing stuff. And it came, a boat, foot stretchers, sliding seats, riggers, bolts and nuts, boards – it was more or less boats coming in bits and pieces. Both Bob and Hart had the idea that what the NRF needed was a repository for parts. If any club in the country had an old Pocock boat and needed a spare part, the club could turn to the NRF to get the part. It never got an official name, but Hart, Bob and I called it ‘Hart Perry’s repository’.

Here is a short video showing an enthusiastic Bob Day ’56 leading the crowd in the Cornell Crew Song at the dedication and unveiling of the new Cornell Rowing Center on 11 June 2011.

After Hart suddenly passed away on 3 February 2011, parts continued to come to Hart’s repository each summer when Bob and Diana came to see their relatives in Groton Long Point. I was always there to greet them and to load in the stuff in the Watercraft Hall. Bob was a wonderful talker, with every bolt and nut came a story. He also called me now and then to talk about rowing. When my book A Yank at Cambridge came out in 2015, I sent him a copy. He phoned to thank me for it and told me that his eyesight was now so poor that he had to have Diana reading the book for him. Last year, when Bob and Diana came to Connecticut, he called me and asked if I could meet him and his brother-in-law in the bookstore at Mystic Seaport. I did so, but although he was in good spirits and as talkative as ever, he also revealed that he was now almost blind.

Two weeks ago, I started wondering why I had not heard anything from Bob for a while, and then Diana, her brother and his wife walked into my office and told me the sad news of Bob’s peacefully passing on June 24.

I will miss Bob and our chats over the phone. He was funny, witty and incredibly knowledgeable when it came to rowing. Hart’s boat, which still hangs from the ceiling in the Boathouse restaurant, will now not only remind me of Hart, but also of Bob. Rest in peace, dear Bob!

Robert ‘Bob’ Edward Day, Jr., was born 22 June 1934. He died on 24 June 2017.

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