G. Robert Blackburn, first director of community and government relations, 88

G. Robert Blackburn, the first director of community and government relations at Washington University in St. Louis, died Sept. 20, 2010. He was 88.


Blackburn was the university’s director of community and government relations from 1972-1992. He also was the first WUSTL administrator to be devoted solely to representing the interests of Washington University in both the federal and local governments and community.

The Office of Community & Governmental Relations — now the Office of Government and Community Relations — was formed in 1972 with the appointment of Blackburn as director. The office was created to manage the university’s local, state and federal issues in the wake of campus unrest of the late 1960s, coupled with the university’s increasing attention to federal research funding.

Blackburn, who had both a political and academic background, was a crucial force in guiding Washington University’s interactions with elected officials, community organizations and governmental agencies.

“As chancellor of Washington University, I worked closely with Bob for many years,” says Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth. “He was my friend and my teacher. He taught me about St. Louis, about its issues, its people and its history. The policies he set out for Washington University were wise and far-seeing.

“No one had better judgment,” Danforth says. “No one was better at choosing modest, low-key approaches that avoided pitfalls and mistakes and kept our community relations on a positive course. Bob was a man of integrity and of goodwill. We are fortunate that he was a part of Washington University.”

Blackburn was instrumental in laying the foundation for the excellent community and governmental relations policies and initiatives in place today, says Pamela S. Lokken, vice chancellor for government and community relations.

“Bob was in the vanguard when research universities were establishing offices dedicated to outreach with their local communities as well as with government offices at all levels — local, state and federal,” Lokken says. “While Bob’s early work was in the St. Louis community, he soon made his presence felt in public policy circles in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C.

“There’s no one from whom I’ve learned more. He was a wonderful mentor and friend.”

Before his responsibilities were expanded in 1972 by then-Chancellor William H. Danforth to include director of government relations, Blackburn served as assistant to then-Chancellor Thomas H. Eliot from 1965-71 and subsequently to Chancellor Danforth.

Blackburn also was a lecturer in political science in Arts & Sciences from 1965-1992.

Blackburn was born in Baltimore Sept. 8, 1922, and attended the University of Virginia as an undergraduate. He served in France, Belgium and Germany during World War II.

After graduate work at Harvard University, Blackburn taught political science at the University of Rochester from 1952-55. Blackburn also served as a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association from 1955-56, staffing two congressional offices.

Blackburn was appointed special assistant to former St. Louis Mayor Raymond Tucker from 1957-1960, and executive secretary from 1960-65.

A memorial service for Blackburn will be held Saturday, Nov. 13, at 11 a.m. in the Knight Center, Room 200. To RSVP, contact Jane Miller at (314) 935-5752 or janemiller@wustl.edu.

Blackburn is survived by his niece, Lisa Manzi, of Ipswich, Mass., and Manzi’s daughters, Sarah and Abigail. Memorial contributions may be made to the Danforth Scholars Program or the McLeod Scholars Program at wustl.edu/giving.