University of Miami’s former president Donna Shalala once said of Robert Blake, the school’s vice president and general counsel: “[He was] an excellent negotiator, one of the best listeners I’ve ever met, and one of the toughest attorneys I’ve ever worked with.”
Shalala championed Blake at his 2006 retirement after his 12-year run with UM as its top legal professional.
Blake, who died Aug. 10 at 75 of complications from diabetes, was division chief in the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office from 1979 to 1994. There, he served as general counsel to the Public Health Trust, the governing body of Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Earlier, after he earned his law degree from Howard University in 1970, Blake taught business law at Miami-Dade Community College and Barry University. He was also a staff attorney for Legal Services of Greater Miami.
In 1991, Blake helped draft the Florida state statute and Miami-Dade County ordinance that established the half-penny hospital sales tax to benefit the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.
His work at UM put Blake in close proximity to the Hurricanes’ football team. Since age 6, Blake followed sports avidly on the radio with his dad, an AME pastor who moved his family of 11 children to at least 13 cities in Florida to preach at numerous churches. Eventually, the Altamonte Springs-born Blake learned the stats of players and had a photographic memory.
His wife Carolyn said he delighted in challenging her to keep up with his passion. She laughs. “He would sometimes say to me, ‘Name all the players on the team and tell me the positions.’ I’d say, ‘I’m not doing that!’ His recall was unbelievable,” she said.
“Whenever he had the opportunity to travel with them during games and the championships during Christmas holidays, that made his day to be on the plane with them and to joke with them,” she said of his travels with UM’s football players.
An excellent negotiator, one of the best listeners I’ve ever met, and one of the toughest attorneys I’ve ever worked with.
Donna Shalala, former University of Miami president, on UM’s former general counsel Robert Blake.
Another passion: food. Blake knew all the best restaurants and chefs — worldwide. He delighted in visiting chefs in their kitchens and was the living embodiment of a Zagat food guide among friends and colleagues. “People would often call him — ‘I’m going to so-and-so, where should we eat?’ He was always known for knowing the nicest place to eat,” his wife said.
Blake’s attention to detail benefited the university. He smoothed over Coral Gables neighbors’ concerns when UM wanted to build a housing complex called University Village. His involvement led to the project’s completion.
“Bob was a passionate advocate for the University of Miami, and the wisdom of his counsel was matched only by the generosity of his spirit,” said Aileen Ugalde, Blake’s first hire at UM in 1994. Ugalde is Blake’s successor as vice president, general counsel and secretary to the board at UM. “His contributions to the legal landscape of higher education will undoubtedly be among his most lasting legacies.”
Blake is also survived by his daughters Denese Blake Waiters, Robyn Blake, son Craig Blake; grandchildren Ashley, Sydney, Michael and Christian; brother John Samuel Blake Jr. and sisters Johnnye Charlow Butler, Josie Green, Rubye Wilson, Ruthel Blake and Eleanor Day. Services were held.