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Ever a teacher, she taught her kids the world

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published January 16, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG - The point of the trips was not all warm and fuzzy.

She loved being around her grandchildren. But by instinct, Peggy Day was a teacher, and she just wanted to help them learn.

So when each grandchild got old enough, they chose a destination and Mrs. Day took them there. She took one to China, another to the Galapagos Islands, another to the Amazon.

"The big, warm, maternal 'bring the children to me' thing wasn't my mom," said her daughter, Becky Day Wilson. "She wanted to teach them about the world. She wanted to educate and inform and provide experience."

They cherished the trips. And, they remembered her lessons - how to eat soup from a spoon. How to speak with proper grammar. Mostly, how to have character.

* * *

She had traveled the world. But last Wednesday at age 89, Mrs. Day died in the place she was born - St. Petersburg.

She was an only child born to well-respected parents. In 1937, she was one of St. Petersburg's first debutantes. Later, her daughters and granddaughters were debutantes.

"She didn't give a fig about social standing," said Wilson, 58, who is married to former St. Petersburg Times staff writer Jon Wilson. "But she wanted us to know we were as good as everyone else."

She had a psychology degree. She volunteered and helped with her husband's insurance business, but never wanted to work outside the home. She focused on her children: Wilson, Dede Murtagh, and Jack Day, now a Pasco County circuit judge.

In the summers, the family took long car trips. One year, they went to South America, where the poverty was eye opening, Murtagh said - a man even stole her waffle in a cafe. But her mother thought the exposure was vital.

"The traveling was at my mother's instigation," said Murtagh, 62. "She wanted us to know the world beyond St. Petersburg."

* * *

She wasn't preachy. She delivered her message one on one.

Mrs. Day was a smoker - she quit at age 71. Later, she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She told her children if they knew smokers, they should just bring them to visit her.

She always went to church, but she was quiet about her deep faith - it was personal.

She always took in people who had no place to go. In the 1960s, she heard about a fostering program for Cuban teens. Murtagh had just left for college, and they had an extra room.

For four years, Ozzie and Willie Sabina lived at the Day house as foster children. They were assimilating to American life, but it was no excuse to escape Mrs. Day's lessons.

When they wanted something, they had to ask for it in English, with good grammar.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or 727 893-8857.



Peggy Day

Born: Nov. 29, 1918

Died: Jan. 9, 2008

Survivors: children, Dede Murtagh, Jack Day and Becky Day Wilson; grandchildren, Ryan Murtagh, Michelle Jennings, Kevin Murtagh, Carrie Forrester, Katie Wilson and Michael Day.


[Last modified January 16, 2008, 00:29:11]

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