Two important and closely-bonded leaders of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce have died within a week of one another with the news stunning attendees of the monthly luncheon meeting of the Chamber this Tuesday.
U.S. Navy Commander Robert S. “Hap” Day, who was an active force in the Chamber since serving as its president in 1966 until his retirement after 14 years as executive director in 1999, died at age 93 Saturday night after having moved two weeks earlier from his long-time residence in the Falls Hills neighborhood just outside the Falls Church city limits to an assisted living facility in Fairfax.
Lois Jones, who worked many years as Day’s assistant executive and following Day’s departure, died days before, reportedly at her home on the Northern Neck.
Day and Jones were a team that led the Chamber through the City of Falls Church’s moves to embrace large scale mixed use developments in the 1990s, working with an activist board of directors whose impact on City Hall was considerable.
Although Day retired from the Chamber in 1999, the City went on to approve and build four major mixed use projects in the following eight years that were the product of his influence, beginning with The Broadway in 2002, and followed by the Byron, the Spectrum and the Read Building.
Upon retiring from the Chamber, Day went on for another decade as the co-host of the weekly local cable TV broadcast, Falls Church News-Press Live.
Born Oct. 27, 1920 in Philadelphia, Day grew up in Pittsburgh and entered the Naval Academy in 1938, where he was a starting lineman for the Midshipmen football team. With the outbreak of World War II, his class was graduated within two weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 19, 1941.
Day claimed to be the youngest man to command a U.S. submarine in the war, operating in the Pacific Theater where he earned a bronze star for his leadership in a combat engagement with the Japanese.
Following the war, he attended Naval Intelligence school in Washington, D.C., learned to speak Russian, and married Clara Lee Moore in 1948 in a ceremony held at the Naval Academy. Day had met Moore on a blind date in Hawaii.
In 1949, Day was assigned as a naval attache to the U.S. Embassy in Russia. He left Russia in 1953 to attend the Naval War College in Newport and in 1956 moved to Hawaii on orders from the Office of the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. In that period, Day and his wife had their four children, Kurt, Julie, Ellen and Nan.
In 1960, Day went to work at the Pentagon, and he and his family moved into the Chestnut Street home on the outskirts of Falls Church where Day resided until just days before his death. He retired from service in June 1962, completing 24 years.
He went on to join the Acadia Life Insurance Company, specializing in financial planning until 1985. Meanwhile, he joined the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, serving as its president in 1966 and he became the first recipient of its coveted Pillar of the Community Award in 1968.
In 1985, he was hired as the executive director of the Chamber, a position he held until his retirement on June 30, 1999. His wife Clara died in the mid-1980s.
In addition to continuing his role as co-host of the cable TV show, he continued his vital role as a friend of the News-Press. Beginning prior to the founding of the News-Press in March 1991, Day began having weekly lunches with the News-Press owner-editor, a Monday tradition which took them to many of the City’s restaurants, from Anthony’s to the Broad Street Grill to the Ireland’s Four Provinces. Eventually, other prominent City officials began attending the lunches, a tradition that continues to this day.
Day was present at all major News-Press events, including summer receptions and December holiday parties. He attended the celebration of the 1,000 edition of the News-Press in July 2010, and for six years he attended annual celebrations organized by the News-Press owner of the combined October birthdays of both he and News-Press ally Eileen Levy held in the party room at Anthony’s, that were known as “Hapeileens.”
Day was a member of the Falls Church Presbyterian Church, the Kiwanis, and remained active in Naval Academy alumni activities, writing for the alumni Shipmate magazine.
On the alumni association’s website, it is noted that Day’s graduating class of Dec. 21, 1941 was 563 strong. Forty-four died in the war, and as of 2010, 196 were still going strong.
As Day neared death last Saturday, his son Kurt told the News-Press, a TV was on in his room broadcasting the annual Army-Navy football game, and Day’s team, Navy, was winning handily.
Kurt Day told the News-Press that arrangements are being made with the Arlington Cemetery for Day to be buried with full military honors at a future date yet to be determined.