In memoriam: Robert A. Day, 79, Keck Foundation chair and longtime USC supporter
The businessman, investor and philanthropist profoundly changed the course of USC, its medical school and medical enterprise.
Robert A. Day, the longtime leader of the W. M. Keck Foundation whose vision was instrumental to the growth of USC and the well-being of Los Angeles, passed away Sept. 14 at age 79.
The businessman, investor and philanthropist profoundly changed the course of USC and the university’s medical school and its medical enterprise, Keck Medicine of USC. The Keck Foundation, one of the university’s most generous benefactors, advanced programs that improve health and education for countless people in Los Angeles and across the world.
“Robert’s name – and that of his family – will forever be etched on this important part of the university’s upward trajectory,” USC President Carol L. Folt and USC Trustee Chair Suzanne Nora Johnson said in a letter sent Monday. “Many of us have known Robert for a long time, and appreciate how much his leadership and vision contributed to building a better USC and a stronger Southern California.”
Day and the Keck Foundation drove the transformative naming gifts for the Keck School of Medicine of USC in 1999 and Keck Medicine of USC in 2011 — investments visible every day in the university’s hospitals, clinics, research labs and classrooms.
The foundation’s commitment to the university reaches even deeper. Throughout its nearly 70-year history, the Keck Foundation has endowed chairs to attract and retain top USC professors in areas such as geological sciences and engineering; supported the USC-owned radio network based at KUSC; provided grants for urgent needs including COVID-19 research; and created research centers that drive innovation across USC.
Robert A. Day: Carrying on family legacy
Day carried on his family’s philanthropic legacy. In 1996, he became the third generation of his family to lead the foundation that was started in Los Angeles by his grandfather, William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Co. With Day at the helm as president and CEO, the Keck Foundation’s philanthropic strategy took on a far-seeing emphasis: It would advance health and quality of life in Los Angeles, the nation, and the world by propelling biomedical discovery through grant-making.
“Robert Day’s generosity and vision was the catalyst for our health system’s evolution into a world renowned academic medical center; and in doing so, he has touched millions of patients and their loved ones,” said Rodney B. Hanners, CEO of Keck Medicine of USC.
“Robert Day was a visionary whose enduring support not only gave birth to the Keck School of Medicine of USC but also laid the foundation for the school’s continued growth and impact on the world’s toughest health care challenges,” said Carolyn Meltzer, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
In supporting USC, Day recognized a way to both advance a critical Los Angeles institution and drive life-changing research.
“Robert Day envisioned a leading role for USC in the health sciences.”
— Steven D. Shapiro, senior vice president of health affairs
This partnership culminated in gifts of more than $272 million to USC, including the foundation’s original gift to expand the Keck School of Medicine and a subsequent gift to accelerate groundbreaking medical, clinical and translational research and education. Day also served as a member of the Keck School of Medicine Board of Overseers.
“Robert Day envisioned a leading role for USC in the health sciences,” said Steven D. Shapiro, USC’s senior vice president of health affairs. “Thanks to his substantial support, we are ready to deliver on that promise, not only in cutting-edge clinical care and research, but also as a model for health equity,”
The Keck Foundation remains one of the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations. It supports outstanding science, engineering, and medical research; special projects that advance undergraduate education; and in Southern California, arts and culture, education, health, and community service projects that have a significant impact on complex issues and problems. The foundation is led by co-presidents Joseph Day and Steve Keck, a USC trustee.