With effortless perfection, teacher Roxie Day did it all

With just a phone call's notice, Roxie Whistler Day could prepare a stunning meal for 13 from scratch. She could paint a flawless image of the ancient structures of Rome, grow a perfect rose during a dry summer or sew a wardrobe of elegant ensembles that never looked homemade.

And she made it look effortless.

Quiet and unpretentious despite her staggering array of skills, Mrs. Day had a boundless energy that she devoted to her husband, family and career as much as to her tasks and hobbies. A woman who nonchalantly saw to every detail, she had the ability to make her immediate world beautiful, yet marveled still at the kind of beauty she couldn't create.

She died Oct. 1 of complications from Alzheimer's. She was 86.

A home-economics teacher for the Seattle School District, her relatives weren't the only ones who benefited from her golden touch. She shared her extensive knowledge with 35 years' worth of students, working tirelessly to introduce them to a field in which she was an unparalleled expert.

Born on a Texas cotton farm Oct. 21, 1916, Mrs. Day was weaned on hard work and self-sufficiency.

She attended Commerce High School in Commerce, Texas, where she met her husband, Emmett E. Day. In 1937, a year after graduating from the East Texas State Teachers College, the two were married.

"We were inseparable after that," Emmett Day said.

The couple pursued teaching jobs in San Antonio, where their daughter, Elaine, was born, and in Boston. In 1947, they moved to Seattle and had a son, Emmett Jr.

Mrs. Day taught home economics at Cleveland and Nathan Hale high schools in Seattle, but it was at the now-closed Lincoln High School where she made her mark.

For 25 years, Mrs. Day taught students there how to make a home, but she also helped elevate the field by stressing home-management psychology and human development in her curriculum. All her students knew they should have a different set of dishes for each meal (because presentation is important), and no one saw her wear the same outfit twice.

Though a gifted teacher in the classroom, she also was a steadfast ally to her students long after the bell rang.

"Kids would come in after school, before school, and they would tell her anything they couldn't tell their parents," said her daughter, Elaine LaTourelle. "She became a person that they really, really trusted."

Former student Jody Nyquist, now the associate dean of the University of Washington graduate school, said Mrs. Day influenced everyone she taught.

"Roxie Day believed in me and in others, often more than we believed in ourselves," she said. "Somehow she always found some uniqueness, some special quality. She could again find talents in people that they did not know they had."

Her oft-repeated motto was, "of course you can," and for women especially, she was a powerful role model.

"It never occurred to me that a woman wouldn't grow up and have a career and a family," LaTourelle said. "My mother did it, so it's possible."

Until Alzheimer's robbed her of her ability to walk, no one knew her to sit idly when there was someone or something to see to. A painter, skier, boater, seamstress, cook, reader, traveler and general confidant, she did a lot — and she did it to perfection.

"She was just so wonderful," Emmett Day said. "I think she undoubtedly had more talent than anyone that I have known."

Mrs. Day was preceded in death by her son. In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by her sister, Anita Coffman, of Longview, Texas; and in Seattle by daughter-in-law Therese Day, granddaughter Kelly Day and grandson Seth Meyer and his family. She also is survived by granddaughter Alyce LaTourelle and grandson Adrian LaTourelle and wife Tessa, all of New York City.

A service was held Tuesday that took her family days to plan but could have been pulled off in hours had Mrs. Day been in charge. Memorials may be sent to the Alzheimer's Association of Washington at 12721 30th Ave. N.E., Suite 101, Seattle WA, 98125 or by visiting www.alzwa.org online.

Lisa Heyamoto: 206-464-2149 or lheyamoto@seattletimes.com