The Colgate Scene
September 2002

Robert L. Blackmore, 1919-2002

Robert L. Blackmore '41, William Henry Crawshaw Professor of literature emeritus, passed away on June 26 in Hamilton, N.Y. after a brief illness. He was 82.

Colleagues, friends and former students alike remember Blackmore as a man with encyclopedic interests, incredible energy and boundless curiosity, whose contributions to the Colgate community represent a deep and lasting legacy.

"Bob was by any count an original. A fiercely independent thinker, an advisor to DKE, an avid gardener, a night owl who read, listened and taught -- equally up for conversation on Thomas Hardy or Billie Holliday any day of the week," said Jane Pinchin, vice president for academic advancement and Thomas A. Bartlett Professor in the Department of English. "He endured the pain of a disobeying back with the tight-lipped determination that characterized the man. He was blunt and stubborn and kind. We will not see his like again. Like my colleagues, I will miss him enormously."

A native of Akron, N.Y., Blackmore was the first in his family to receive a university degree. Graduating at the top of his high school class, he set off to enroll at Princeton, but a freak snowstorm diverted him to Hamilton, where he took shelter with friends at Colgate. He presented his credentials there, and was offered a scholarship on the spot, beginning a lifelong relationship with his alma mater.

After graduation from Colgate, he signed on as a civilian flight instructor for the Canadian Royal Air Force. After the United States entered World War II, he became a test pilot for Glenn Martin Aircraft and later, for the U.S. Navy.

In 1947, he was hired by LIFE magazine, where as manager of Life Books he laid the groundwork for the establishment of TIME-LIFE Books as an independent venture.

Blackmore left Time, Inc. in 1960 to join the faculty at Colgate and to pursue graduate studies at Syracuse University. He earned his doctorate within five years, and began assuming a sequence of leadership positions at Colgate, including chair of the English department, director of the humanities division, dean of the faculty and provost. In 1983, deciding he would rather teach than administer, Blackmore accepted the Henry Crawshaw Chair in Literature and returned to the classroom. He retired in 1986.

As advisor to the Colgate Maroon, Blackmore "taught a generation of journalists who would go on to dominate the American landscape and keep their affection for Colgate intact, much thanks to Bob," Pinchin said.

"The questions [he asked] about what we were doing and how we were doing it were incessant but never overbearing," wrote Lance Morgan '72 and Gloria Borger '74, who each served as editor-in-chief of the Maroon during their senior years. "In the nearly three decades since we graduated and married (a ceremony Bob and Lucia attended), the questions never stopped. During our visits to Hamilton, we would . . . discover that Bob's inquisitiveness and enthusiasm for discussing the state of journalism and the world never diminished. It would have been easy to reminisce about the good old days, but they were mentioned only in passing. Bob was far too interested in the present to dwell on the past." (Morgan is executive vice president of BSMG Worldwide and Borger is a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report and special correspondent for CBS News.)

"He never cheered us on or condemned us, but his mere presence was the key thing," recalled Howard Fineman '70, a former Maroon editor-in-chief who is chief political correspondent for Newsweek. "Puffing intently on a Pall Mall, smiling knowingly but saying little, he somehow conveyed a sense that what we were doing was very important. Nothing wrong with being brave, he seemed to say. Just be careful as you go, for words have power."

A classically trained trombonist who won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music, Blackmore became an adept jazz musician who helped organize a jazz band in college and had a guest appearance with the Tommy Dorsey Band. For 40 years, as the jazz disc jockey at WRCU and other area radio stations, he enriched the knowledge and appreciation of jazz music of generations of listeners. An avid collector, he assembled more than 60,000 albums over 50 years. In 2001, he donated his library of jazz recordings and books to Colgate, where they serve as the core of the university's Blackmore Jazz Archive.

"Though he encouraged me in many areas while I was a Colgate student, I think I benefited more from the friendship we maintained after I graduated," said freelance writer Gabriel Schechter '73. "He was the best listener I've ever known, and visits with him flew by, full of intense and enthusiastic discussions of the whole range of our experiences and interests."

A scholar of late Victorian and early 20th century literature, Blackmore published several books and articles about members of the Powys family, the Welsh poets and novelists. In 1965, he and his wife Lucia organized the Colgate University Press, which became the American publisher of books by and about John Cowper Powys and other members of the Powys family, as well as other scholarly publications. He also authored several novels.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, the former Lucia Wicker; his son James '65 of Albany, N.Y; his son John '68 of Pelham Manor, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.

The Blackmore family requests that donations in Bob Blackmore's memory be given to support the Blackmore Jazz Archive.
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