Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Celebrating a Renaissance Man

On Saturday, September 6th, my family went to the funeral of a family friend, Dr. Lyle Blackwell (1932~2008).  It was a sad occassion, yet the joyful reunion of many people we hadn’t seen in years, warmed our hearts.   In particular, when we first spotted Mary, Lyle’s wife, she had tears in her eyes at seeing us.... “Oh...you are so beautiful to my eyes..” she said.    It seems the seasons in life serve to mature us spiritually, just as fine wine ages.  It only takes a moment such as this to remind me of how precious we are to God     ....seeing a window of heaven in someone’s face leaves me at a loss for words.    It was so good to hug Mary and hold her hand.

Dr. Blackwell was an extremely intelligent and accomplished human being.  I’m sure I could scarcely touch the surface of his many talents in this short entry.  Even so, to share with those who never had the privilege of knowing him, he was a graduate of WVU, Chrysler Institute of Engineering and Ohio State University, receiving his Ph. D degree in 1966.   He made his way to West Virginia Tech when a teaching job was offered to him and remained for 30 years.   He left as Dean of Engineering and proud of the fact that during his tenure he had seen every engineering program accredited and recognized nationally as an engineering school of excellence.

He had so many interests outside of work that I am still learning about them.  He was truly a Renaissance Man, with a love for travel and seeing the world, he sketched in pen and ink and painted in watercolors; he authored several books and wrote “bad poetry” he claims.  He loved to be outdoors and enjoyed hunting, fishing and spending time at his camp with family and friends.  Dr. Blackwell was also an accomplished musician, composing, arranging and conducting instrumental and vocal music.  I believe he could play nearly any instrument by ear, but he was particularly fond of his piano jazz ensembles and played with many different groups over the years.  Lyle is the only person I’ve ever met who seemed to be gifted with full right and left brain capabilities.

I came to know Lyle sometime in the late 80’s through my boyfriend - now husband- and his family.  Since the families were close, I met the Blackwells through social gatherings such as family Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties.  I can still remember my impression upon meeting Lyle for the first time: He loved life! He was so full of energy and passion for countless things...artifacts, museums, music, philosophy, history, chemistry, engineering, theology....the list goes on.  He always had a story or a curious piece of trivia to share.

For all of his talents and passions though, one of the most remarkable qualities to me was his genuine interest in others.  He wanted to know all about you,... your hobbies and areas of study, your beliefs and convictions and why you felt that way.  He would ask many questions; in answering, it was as if you were supplying him with another thread to be woven into his great life tapestry.  

Lyle was a beautiful human being and I am blessed to have crossed paths with him and his family.

The funeral was remarkable in that so many framed photographs adorned the tables and guests were invited to speak at the service which brought moments of quiet reflection as well as a few hearty laughs when friends shared humorous anecdotes.  The church, Gauley Bridge Baptist, was very generous by inviting not only the family, but everyone present, to dine together after the interment.  Lyle had been a member of this church for over 65 years.

We stayed for hours that day visiting with old friends and looking at Lyle’s photo albums which were arrayed on a table in the dining hall.  As I flipped through the pages of his voluminous album from his ’96 safari to Kenya, I was impressed by his journaling beside the photos on each page.  I could gain  a sense of being on safari with him, but even more,  I gained a sense of his witty humor and his love for his family;  this was a trip he had initiated for his four sons.

Something else grabbed my attention too.  Turning page after page of beautiful photos and reading those entries reminded me of my own neglect in this area.  I have hundreds of photographs on my computer of family events dating back several years that need to be placed in an album for many to enjoy.  What greater gift to leave your family members with than your writing and photos, your stories?

A Blackwell family member told me that when Lyle died, he was at home with family working on a photo album.  He wanted to make sure his kids and grandchildren would have them.  His spirit departed to heaven even as he was creating a gift for those he loved...

I am thankful for his life and the inspiration Dr. Lyle Blackwell has given to me.

May his memory be eternal.

*Photo is of the program created by Amber Blackwell; pen and ink sketch was made by an anonymous student from WV Tech


E.B. said...

What a beautiful tribute to your friend. You make me wish I'd known him.

amy said...

Thank you- I appreciate you reading. He was, indeed, a special person. The great thing is that when you live an inspired life, it creates a ripple effect on those around you. The positive influence on others goes on and on...

Anonymous said...

As a former Tech Student, I would like to point out that Dr. Blackwell was also known for some of his famous "Blackwell-isms"! Here are a just a couple of them we heard long ago (c. 1970 or so) in his engineering classes:

If your decisions are wrong most of the time, there's no excuse -- even a man that makes decisions by flipping a coin is right 50% of the time!

When you graduate and go out into the world, always remember: Friends may come and go -- but enemies accumulate!

Patrick M. Frazer
BSEE 1973

amy said...


ha! Those are great! Thanks so much for sharing your memories.

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