A highly respected authority on African nationalism and political thinking from ancient Greece to 20th-century America has died.
John Day was born in Mitcham, Surrey on 17 February 1931 and educated at Wallington County Grammar School for Boys before going to read history at Christ’s College, Cambridge. After completing his degree in 1953, he stayed on to do postgraduate work, secured a year’s scholarship to Harvard University and did his national service in the Royal Air Force. His first academic post, as an assistant in the University of Edinburgh’s department of history, followed in 1957.
Two years later, however, Mr Day moved to the University of Leicester for the remaining 36 years of his career and shifted from history to politics. He served in turn as assistant lecturer (1959-60), lecturer (1960-69) and finally senior lecturer (1969-95). He also spent time as a visiting professor in what was then the University College of Rhodesia (1964) and the College of William &amp; Mary in Virginia (1976-77).
His term in what is now Zimbabwe gave Mr Day a long-term interest in African politics, which was reflected in many journal articles and a major book titled International Nationalism: The Extra-territorial Relations of Southern Rhodesian African Nationalists (1967). He also contributed incisive chapters on Plato, John Stuart Mill and John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice to Oxford University Press’ series of edited volumes, The Political Classics (1992, 1993, 1996).
Although Mr Day taught both African politics and political theory to final-year undergraduates at Leicester, he was particularly known and loved for the inspiring introductory course on British politics he delivered to first-years. Very popular with students, he served on the Committee on Student Representation - not always an easy task during the unrest of the 1960s - and as an elected member of the senate, and went on to prove a highly effective head of the department of history in the 1980s.
His long-term colleague Bob Borthwick, former senior lecturer in politics at Leicester, recalled Mr Day as “the least self-seeking of academics” and a man whose “outwardly calm demeanour to some extent hid a passionate concern for justice and fairness…He had a great capacity for dealing sympathetically with the problems of others.”
Retirement gave Mr Day the opportunity to travel and to write a history of the church in his Leicestershire village of Peatling Magna, although he also continued teaching at the University of Warwick as well as at Leicester until ill-health prevented this.
He died on 21 December 2012 and is survived by his wife Ann and their children David, Roger and Rosalind.