Joel Blair, 79, of Key West, passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. He was born Joel Mac Blair Jr. on Nov. 3, 1934, in Groveton, Texas, to Joel Mac Blair Sr. and Mary Etta Smith Colby.
A Renaissance man, Joel's interests ranged from literature and the arts to gardening, travel, politics, cooking and World War II history. He was one of the "founding fathers" of University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he served on the faculty from 1966 to 1990, often a lone Southern voice. Elected as chairman, he established an English Department for the newly combined Colleges I and II and subsequently served as Assistant Provost of the university. His belief in the importance and future of the university and his fondness for its students and faculty were real and lifelong. He helped establish a Retired UMass Faculty Association and he and his partner, Peter Moulton, left the bulk of their estate to the university. One of Joel's last gifts was an annual prize to allow an honors student to travel to Europe.
Joel's own first chance to see Europe came through military service, and his life thereafter was colored by concerns with the range and beauty of English and European culture. He and Peter were both active in the Massachusetts Rhododendron Society, and Joel began a study of English gardens in the Radcliffe Seminars program in Landscape Design. Both men then made it their practice to begin summer trips abroad with courses at the Ashridge Gardens in England. Joel's interest in gardens, restoration and art found its fullest expression in the house and lot he and Peter restored that was their final home in Key West.
Retirement in Key West provided an opportunity for Joel to write about what he loved. He became the resident visual arts reviewer and critic for "Solares Hill." A regular and devoted presence on the gallery scene, his articles for Solares Hill were written with both a sensitive and educated eye. Joel rarely, if ever, wrote a negative review. If he couldn't say something positive about an artist's work, he wouldn't review it. In addition, he frequently reviewed Sculpture Key West. Besides the many articles he wrote over the past 10 years, he also co-produced a film series at the Tropic Cinema called "Tuesdays with Art." In advance of each showing, he wrote an informative article providing a history of the featured artist, placing the film in a larger context of contemporary art. Educating the audience, introducing work not otherwise seen here and providing an opportunity for dialogue were his goal. He also wrote book reviews and articles on various topics including politics and cooking. He was increasingly concerned (and wrote about) the widening disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
Joel will be remembered by all who met him for his sociability, his kindness and generosity. He was a gentleman who always started a conversation with "How are YOU?" and really wanted to know the answer.
Joel was predeceased by Pierre (Peter) Moulton, his partner of 47 years; his parents and grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Blair; his sister Ruth Alice Blair; and brother William Smith Blair. He is survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Frances Pauline and Don A. Storey of Bay City, Texas; nephew Stuart Colby Blair of Jupiter, Fla.; and niece Veronica and her husband Pat George of Houston, Texas. He leaves behind several cousins in Texas, as well as many, many good friends in Key West and the New England area.
There will be a "Remembrance Gathering" at a future date to be announced.
Donations in Joel's memory can be made to UMass Boston, The Studios of Key West or the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of the Florida Keys.