Kit (Christopher) Blake

Kit (Christopher) Blake died on February 20, 2020 in Dundee, Scotland. 

(The following appeared in the Herald Scotland on March 9, 2020)

KIT (Christopher) Blake, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Dundee, has died at the age of 93. As well as having a distinguished academic career, he held a number of public appointments across Scotland.

His parents were the novelist and journalist, George Blake, and Eliza Lawson, both natives of Greenock. His father wrote many novels set in and around the Clyde shipyards, the most well-known of these being The Shipbuilders (1935), as well as a recently republished work, The Path of Glory, based on his own traumatic experiences at Gallipoli.

Blake senior also had a prominent radio broadcasting career, was a director of Faber and Faber, and was at various times editor of the Glasgow Evening News and the Glasgow Evening Citizen, latterly writing freelance for the Glasgow Herald.

Because of his father’s profession, Kit spent a peripatetic and bohemian childhood, in Hampstead, Glasgow, Helensburgh and Dollar, and knew a colourful range of characters, including T.S. Eliot and Sir Hugh Walpole – “Uncle Tom” and “Uncle Hugh”.

His progress from Dollar Academy to St. Andrews University was delayed by the war. He survived active naval service in the Mediterranean relatively unscathed, other than life-long deafness from gunnery training.

At university he met his future wife, Elizabeth (Buff) McIntyre, from Broughty Ferry, who was reading English. According to a much-loved family tale, it was she who proposed to him and told him they would have four children. Life followed her instructions.

With a first-class degree in economics and philosophy, his first job was as a thread salesman for J & P Coats of Paisley. But academia beckoned and he took up short-term posts teaching philosophy at Bowdoin College in Maine, at Princeton University, and then at Edinburgh University.

Back in Scotland, he quickly decided that academic life was not for him, preferring to be “at the sharp end of things”, and so moved on to working for five years with office systems in the steel industry at Stewart & Lloyds. With subsequent developments in IT, he was proud to have been involved in the early days of computers, which then took up whole rooms.

He was heavily influenced by this experience in his subsequent academic career in economics, believing that managing information in a business is the key to success. He retained a fascination for technology, upgrading his mobile phones and tablets with dizzying regularity, even into his nineties.

From business he was tempted back into academia by a job offer from his economics professor at St Andrews. He loved returning to his alma mater and living again in the “auld grey toun”. However, he found the work unsatisfying and moved in 1965 to Dundee – which he called “a proper university” – initially as a Senior Lecturer and then, three years later, a professor.

From then until retirement in 1987, he played an important role in the life of the University, as Head of Department, twice Dean of Faculty, and on the appointing committee for Principal Adam Neville. In keeping with his strong preference for applied rather than pure learning, his research interests were heavily practical, for example a study into the impact of The Open Championship on the local economy.

During these years he held a number of important governance roles outwith the University, including as Chairman of William Low, director of Alliance Trust, Chair of Governors at St. Leonards School, member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, vice-president of the Scottish Council (now SCDI), and the last Chairman of the Glenrothes Development Corporation before transfer of its responsibilities to Fife Council.

He was much respected in these roles and always saw himself as a natural enabler and skilled at running meetings. He also had a genuine ability to connect with all, regardless of background, which stemmed from his deeply egalitarian instincts.

Introduced to golf by his wife, he was a long-standing member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, serving at various times as Chairman of the House and Fiance Committees. He was in charge of Scoreboard Control at The Open for a number of years and was involved in advising the Augusta National Golf Club on its operations at the Masters.

When Buff finally persuaded him to give up all his external roles, he settled into retirement in St Andrews, able to indulge in his love of golf and travelling.

Sadly, he lost his wife in 2009 and his eldest son, Duncan, in 2015. He is survived by his other children, Neil, Catriona and Janet, by his sister, Sally, and by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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