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Longtime WISR Board Chair, Robert Blackburn Passes Away

In Memoriam: Dr. Robert Blackburn, served as a Board member for over 30 years. WISR was blessed with his wise council, his unequaled and loving sense of humor, and his unwavering commitment to social and racial justice and to quality learner-centered education. He passed away, September 11, 2016. 

WISR President, John Bilorusky shares some of his recollections of Bob:  “Bob served on WISR’s Board for many, many years, going back to the 1980s (for over 30 of WISR’s 41 years) until he had to retire a year or two ago, for health reasons.  During much of that time, he served as Chair of WISR’s Board.  Bob also served on a number of dissertation committees and was often available to have advising consultations with students.  Beyond this, we often called on him to lead and facilitate all school gatherings and sessions of our annual conferences–because Bob always did this with a joyful, uplifting and non-pretentious sense of humor, and with a very down-to-earth grace.  We had one Board meeting (near Halloween) when walked through the door to our Board meeting dressed as a Cardinal, right out of the Vatican.  Another time, when he was participating in the Graduation Review Board of Richard Allen, he sat down at the conference table, with an old style briefcase (hard cover, luggage type) in his hand.  He dramatically sat the briefcase on the table and clicked open the lid of the briefcase.  He pulled out a big linen napkin and wrapped it around his neck, then he pulled out Richard thick dissertation and placed it on the table, and finally, he reached into the brief case and pulled out a very big carving fork and knife.  He rubbed the knife and fork together and said:  “Now, let’s carve this sucker up!”  And as was so often the case when in Bob’s presence, we all laughed, felt really good about ourselves and about life, and then we proceeded to have a wonderful and collegial discussion of Richard’s outstanding dissertation.  Bob knew how to live life fully, and I imagine he, more than most of us, always appreciated life.  In 1973, when the Symbionese Liberation Army murdered African American Oakland School Superintendent, Marcus Foster, Bob (who was Marcus Foster’s Deputy Superintendent and close friend) was nearly killed–many more than a dozen bullets went in and through his body.  He once told me of an “out of body/near death” experience he had on the surgery table.  He survived, and the world and so many of us, have been blessed that he went on to live for more than another 40 years.  I know I have lived my life better because of my good fortune to have associated with Bob for so many years.”

Robert Blackburn earned his PhD in Leadership in Higher Education, at the Union Graduate School (1984), the MA in Intergroup Relations, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (1964), and his AB, in Sociology and Education from Oberlin College (1957). He went to high school in Roslyn, New York and at the Texas Military Institute, San Antonio. Bob’s work history included civil rights, school improvement and citizen action, regional director for the Peace Corps in Somalia, central office leadership in the Philadelphia public schools, Deputy and Superintendent for the Oakland Public Schools, Professor and Chair, and Department of Educational Leadership and Administration, Cal State East Bay. He held Board memberships in various professional and civic organizations in Philadelphia and Oakland, and served on the California Attorney General’s Commission on Hate Crimes. He provided extensive mentoring and coaching for Oakland school principals through the Principal Leadership Institute of the University of California at Berkeley and Cal State.