A tribute to Herman Blake from Joanne Scherr

I entered Cowell College as a freshman in 1967.  Herman Blake was my advisor.  He changed my life in three ways.

1. He advised doing something practical.  It was that bit of advice that convinced me to pursue a career in medicine, something I had thought about before but never considered seriously until I met Herman Blake.  I became a physician and have been able to help many people as a result.

2. He taught a sociology class in which we had to write a paper on our own family’s “roots”.  This led to correspondence with my grandfather and discussions with my mother in which I learning things about them and my own family history that I would otherwise have never learned.  It gave me a sense of where I came from and upon whose shoulders I stand.

3. When I was in the second quarter of my freshman year — depressed, not fitting in with my dorm mates — I applied for a transfer to another UC campus that would be closer to home.  I went to see Herman Blake to tell him of my plan to transfer.  He said,  “I will miss you.”  Those words had a profound effect on me.  Why would a professor miss me?  I was a freshman, a nothing in my own eyes.  Those were the kindest words ever spoken to me and to this day it brings tears to my eyes to think of them.  I was a Jewish white girl, why would this African-American professor wearing a dashiki care about me?

I withdrew my transfer and stayed at UCSC.

When you went to see Herman Blake, you might sit on the floor outside his office for an hour waiting your turn for your appointment with him.  But once inside his office there were only the two of you.  Nothing interrupted the meeting.  No telephone calls.  No knocks on the door.  He looked into your eyes:  He listened.  It was as if he had nothing else to do except attend to whatever brought you in to see him.  He was a tremendous role model as a human being.  How he treated me has always remained my ultimate model on how I should treat others.  I feel blessed to have had Herman Blake as my adviser and teacher.

Joanne Scherr,
UCSC Cowell College class of 1971