From the day I arrived in western Massachusetts, the Blakes’ influence was palpable as I was greeted by the Bay Path community at the Blake Student Commons, the vibrant hub of our University. But I quickly came to understand that it is less about their name on a building, and more about their quiet philanthropy and deep values that truly exemplify the many commitments made by Pres and Helen Blake to the Pioneer Valley and beyond.
It was through Carol Leary, immediate past president of Bay Path, that I learned most about Pres. The relationship she and her husband Noel have cherished with Pres and Helen Blake spans over twenty five years.
Carol called me from Florida on Thursday afternoon to share the sad news. During our long conversation, the deep respect, gratitude, and affection she and Noel have for Pres and Helen poured out. In reflecting on Pres, who first joined Bay Path’s Board of Trustees in 1960 eventually serving as Board Chair, Carol spoke about his impact on Bay Path. “Our students were always at the center of his philanthropy. Through his generosity in establishing the S. Prestley Blake Scholarship in 1973, which he continued to fund over the years, education was made possible for hundreds of Bay Path women, especially our neediest.” In 2017, Pres honored his wife and her commitment to teaching by endowing the Helen D. Blake Scholarship for education majors.
Equally significant as is philanthropy, she described, was his genuine care and compassion for students, over the years attending countless student dinners, events and performances. She went on to discuss how international students always held a special place in his heart. He made it possible for many to achieve the dream of studying in the United States, understanding the importance of people of different cultures coming together to learn from one another. Many of these students from over the years continued to stay in touch with him, factoring in a trip to visit him whenever they returned to the area.
Another of Pres’ great passions, also shared by Helen, is ethics. Shortly after the 2011 publication of his book, A Friendly Life, Pres and Helen led a panel discussion at Bay Path regarding shareholder activism and the obligation of leaders to instill ethical business practices across their organizations. He made another lasting contribution to Bay Path when he created the Blake Endowed Chair in Ethics at Bay Path
As quoted in his book, in response to the question, “could a businessman be both ethical and prosperous?” His answer was clear and unambiguous: yes. This business acumen was another of Pres’ gifts to Bay Path. During his 50 years as a Trustee, he helped lead the college through extraordinary growth, never wavering from his steadfast commitment to innovation and integrity.
I had the great honor to meet Pres last fall, recalling the immediate and lasting impact he had on me. I treasure the memory of time spent with him and, like all who met him, will remain in awe of his life. While the past year has precluded the events that were always the more joyous given the Blakes’ presence, there is great delight in knowing that, even at 106, Pres would have been the first to attend and find his seat next to the students he cared so much about.
As Carol said, Pres’ passing is the end of an era. Yet his legacy will endure. And we will always hold the best seat, right next to students, for him at every table.
This piece was originally published on masslive.com. Read it here.