Blake Reeves

(This column was first published in the May 21, 2001 Buffalo News.)

     Blake Reeves died recently and even when his death was announced I suspect that few people of this region noted his passing. Still fewer probably read his obituary when it appeared in the back pages of this newspaper. For Blake wasn't a politician; he wasn't a sports or entertainment figure; he hadn't committed any horrific crimes. He wasn't, as they say, newsworthy.

     He was simply a retired University at Buffalo teacher -- Dr. R. Blake Reeves, an emeritus professor of physiology in the medical school.

     And Blake was a quiet person. I have attended meetings lasting hours at which he said nothing at all. He was one of those self-contained people who felt under no compulsion to draw attention to himself.

     Yet the death of this single individual is the most important -- and tragic -- event in the recent history of conservation in this region. For Blake Reeves has long been recognized as the central figure in local efforts to maintain and even improve our environmental quality. Among those he served so well were the Sierra Club, Buffalo Audubon Society and Nature Conservancy.

     At a memorial service for Blake, Bill Kindell accurately compared this loss to "the fall of a massive oak," but Bill extended his metaphor to suggest that others would have to grow to fill in the canopy left open by the loss of this giant tree. I have trouble with that extension because I know of no one locally and few world-wide who could rise to Blake's quality. Blake was quite simply unique.

     I knew Blake for only a few of the thirty-plus years he devoted to conservation activities, but I quickly realized the basis for his reputation. Of course he was very bright; of course he knew the key conservation players not just locally but state-wide and nationally; and of course he spoke well. But those qualities were not nearly as important as the depth of his information. He always had the best and most up-to-date data ready at hand.

     At that same memorial service I learned how Blake began to accumulate his vast store of information. As a youngster diagnosed with scarlet fever, he was restricted to bed for full year. That was when Blake became a reader and until his death he never stopped. His daily regimen included The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal,scores of magazines and stacks of books.

     And he was always after more. He regularly turned our conversations to books and pressed me for recommendations. I recall once telling him how much I enjoyed reading David Quammen's  The Flight of the Iguana,a book of over 400 pages. When I met Blake again a few days later, he was prepared to discuss its contents.

     My favorite episode with Blake was on an Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge bird census. We set out very early and when we left the Thruway at Pembroke, I learned the reason. We would have a pre-dawn breakfast at the truck-stop restaurant.

     Blake ordered pancakes and the waitress brought him an outsized plate stacked with a half-dozen eight-inch diameter almost inch thick cakes. "He'll never finish one," I thought because Blake was not a large man. In fact, this immaculately dressed, slim gentleman provided a perfect contrast to the burly truckers all around us.  But before I finished my eggs and toast, Blake was sopping up the last of the syrup with a final fork-full of doughy pancake.

     Now just thinking about that pleasant episode brings tears to my eyes. I will miss this fine friend. This community will never be better served.-- Gerry Rising