The last official act of the outgoing School Board members honored one of their predecessors — Ferdinand Day, who was a member of the board during the turbulent days between 1964 and 1972. The "Ferdinand T. Day Student Commons" at the new T.C. Williams High School will bear witness to a long and distinguished career in Alexandria.
"Fred has a long history in this city. He’s been a mentor, a role model and a friend," said Mayor Bill Euille, who made a rare appearance at last week’s School Board meeting to honor Day. "You do what you can to honor your favorite sons, and Fred is definitely a favorite son."
The naming of the student commons for Day joins a long list of existing accolades. A street — Ferdinand Day Drive — already bears his name in Cameron Station. And his likeness was portrayed by Lou Walker in the 2000 movie "Remember the Titans," which chronicled the racial strife in Alexandria during the struggle to integrate the city’s schools.
"He wasn’t half as good looking," said outgoing board member Sally Ann Baynard.
Day was a trailblazer of historic proportions in the commonwealth. He was the first black school board member in Virginia — and the first black school board chairman. He oversaw board policy when the city’s schools made the difficult and controversial decision to consolidate all high school students at the then-new T.C. Williams High School. Now — as a new building for that school is in the midst of construction — Day returned to the School Board to receive his resolution.
"We had some hectic periods," Day said. "But in the end, people of goodwill prevailed."
DAY HAS A reputation of being a mentor and cheerleader. Several speakers at Thursday’s meeting talked about how he helped them campaign for office, how he would frequently call with advice, and how he provided support at critical times. Superintendent Rebecca Perry said that she has received many telephone calls from Day, who offered her a friendly voice in difficult times.
"He’s always called when I needed a little boost," Perry said. "And that’s been plenty."
Day, a native of Alexandria, was also one of the original founders of the Departmental Progressive Club on Gibbon Street. He currently lives in Sharon, Mass., but he traveled to Alexandria to accept the honor in person. When the time came to vote on the resolution, board members unanimously approved the measure — and more than a few people in the audience said "aye" as well, adding their voices to the approval for one of the city’s favorite sons.
After the vote, the St. Joseph Church choir launched into a spirited rendition of "This Little Light of Mine" — Day’s favorite spiritual. After the singing ended and the extended standing ovation subsided, outgoing chairwoman Mollie Danforth said that the meeting had been the "best sounding" School Board meeting in her 12 years of experience.
"That’s a tough act to follow," said Education Association of Alexandria President Francis Chase, who took the podium to speak on the board’s next agenda item.