In memory of Drew Days

Below are the remarks I gave at the Memorial Service for my dear friend.

Drew Days: A life well lived

April 24th, 2022

Drew and I first interacted when he was Director of the Orville Schell Center for Human Rights, and I was chair of the Human Rights Watch Committee for Europe and Central Asia. Drew served on several important boards including Hamilton College, The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and the Bank Street College. But we came to know each other at the MacArthur Foundation. During my time as President, Drew was one of the trustees I most valued for thoughtful comments and honest advice on opportunities and challenges. 

He chaired our committee on Human and Community Development and took the lead in crafting MacArthur’s juvenile justice program, affordable housing initiative and neighborhood improvement work. But he was also a lead trustee in MacArthur’s international initiative in Human Rights, conservation, women’s health, and peace and security. He and Ann traveled with me to Russia, Nigeria, India, Australia, Fiji, Bhutan, Mexico, and more. On those trips we forged a relationship which brightened my life for years to come and continues in my friendship with Ann. 

He saw more of MacArthur’s work firsthand than any other trustee. He talked with local human rights activist in provincial cities in Russia, with indigenous conservationists in Fiji, women’s health workers in Northern Nigeria and Mexico. He always listened, showed empathy and respect, built bridges across cultures, made constructive suggestions about how to advance our common goals.

And he brought his perceptive insights about our work back to the MacArthur board room in Chicago. Our chair Sara Lawrence Lightfoot described his importance to his colleagues. “Drew’s voice was one of restraint, listening attentively, using a language of precision and understatement … offering deft and probing analysis, bringing to bear the weight of judgement and critique when we considered programs…”

I recall a conversation he had with Sara about her book, “Exit the Endings that Set Us Free”. He said, “when I exit, I just don’t want to feel celebrated and admired for what I did I want to feel known for who I am”. When I think about Drew, the letter c comes to mind. He was courageous, compassionate, curious, collegial, congenial, complex, and comprehensive about his views for the world. 

I am reminded of a conversation we had smoking a cigar under the moonlight in Havana after a hard day’s work looking at MacArthur’s Conservation work. He talked about the complexity of working in Castro’s Cuba, the ethical dilemmas, the openness of some high-ranking officials to our values, the conflict between our conservation work and the rights of people living on the land and fishing the sea. And where we stood in the arch of history and why it was important to conserve biodiversity before Cuba opened up. I learned a lot from Drew that evening, not so much from answers he was giving but questions he was asking that stimulated me to think more deeply and appreciate the complexity of our work.

I last visited Drew at Mariner’s Point just before the Covid shutdown. We talked about our time together at the American Academy for Arts and Sciences where he helped me think through our project on Access to Justice. Alas, the conversation was not easy, but we were connected, and I felt the warmth, love, and respect that we shared. As I left, we locked eyes, he smiled, and we said what I felt would be our last goodbyes. As I walked to my car, I thought of a reflection from Yale Chaplain, William Sloane Coffin. 

“The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to live a good life. Lead a good one, full of curiosity, generosity, and compassion, and there’s no need at the close of the day to rage against the dying of the light. We can go gentle into that good night.”

Drew lived a good life and has gone gently into the good night. But his life will continue to inspire us to fight for a more just and humane world at peace. 

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