Dr. Robert W. Day – Fed Hutchinson Director and Epigenomics CMO

Originally published January 7, 2018 at 5:43 pm

Dr. Robert Day, former director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center who brought the campus to South Lake Union, has died at home. Dr. Robert Day, who led the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center for 16 years and spent much of his retirement working on public-health issues, died at his Seattle home Saturday at the age of 87. Dr. Day had been battling liver cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said his daughter, Nate Tantum. “It is a tragic loss for all of us,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president of Fred Hutch.

Dr. Day, who stepped down from that post in 1997, oversaw the decision to move to the South Lake Union campus that today bears his name. “It was a decision that took courage, but one that among many other decisions Bob made during his tenure, and subsequently, has made the Hutch what it is today,” Gilliland said.

Born in Framingham, a Boston suburb, Dr. Day studied internal medicine at the University of Chicago. While interning with a Maryland public-health service, he met Jane Boynton, a nurse at the University of Maryland. They were married in 1957. Dr. Day studied epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, earning a doctorate and a master’s of public health. He subsequently held several posts in California’s health department, including deputy director. He moved his family to Seattle to join the University of Washington faculty and was named dean of the two-year-old School of Public Health there in 1972.

In 1981, he was appointed director of Fred Hutch, succeeding founding director Dr. William Hutchinson, as the institute was broadening its funding beyond its initial federal grants, moving toward grant-funded research and outside fundraising, and building out its research units. Years later, the center’s First Hill campus, adjacent to an expanding Swedish Hospital, grew overcrowded. Dr. Day led a search for new space. “We don’t want [this area] to look like the middle of Manhattan,” he said. Dr. Day preferred keeping the Hutch in Seattle, close to research partners at the University of Washington, rather than relocating outside the city The board of directors ultimately chose a bundle of South Lake Union parcels adjacent to the old Seattle City Light steam plant over locations in Fremont and the Pacific Medical Center building in Beacon Hill.Construction on the South Lake Union campus began in 1991, and it opened in 1993.

Dr. Day, family and colleagues said, was driven, in part, by personal loss — his mother and sister both died of cancer — to fight the disease. “He had been interested all along” in cancer work, Boynton Day said. “He really wanted to do something about finding a cure. And the Hutch was, to him, the best you could get.” The couple divorced in 1977. Along with his second wife, the former Cynthia Jane “C.J.” Taylor, Dr. Day adopted two girls from Russia in 1994. After his departure from Fred Hutch, Dr. Day stayed active in medical startups, boards and advisory work. “He didn’t retire,” said Mary Taylor, a sister-in-law. His project included Targeted Growth, a startup aimed at developing agricultural products using technology licensed from The Hutch and the UW, as well as a cancer-care advisory website, Oncology.com. He would served as chief medical officer for Epigenomics, a German biotechnology firm.With his second wife, he founded the Science and Management of Addictions Foundation, which fights substance addiction in youth. “He spent his whole life trying to help others,” said Tantum, his daughter.

Dr. Day is survived by his first wife, Jane Boynton Day, and daughter, Nate Tantum, of Quilcene, Jefferson County; a son, Christopher, of Seattle; daughters Natalya Bennett, of Tampa, Fla., and Julia Webb, of Seattle; and two grandchildren. His second wife, C.J., died in 2011.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Fred Hutch or the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Matt Day: 206-464-2420 or mday@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mattmday